Friday, March 11, 2011

The Other Guys -- uncredited heroes

Director: Adam McKay, 2010. (PG-13) 

The latest Will Ferrell movie is crass, rude, offensive at times, and downright hilarious at others. But it is certainly not family friendly. Though rated PG-13, I have seen far less offensive R-rated films (The King's Speech is one immediate example). This is not one to watch with your kiddies, at least not without squirming at several of the scenes.

Here Ferrell plays Allen Gamble, a "forensic accountant", which is a kind way of saying a pencil pushing detective in New York City. Along with Terry Hoitz (Mark Wahlberg, The Fighter), another disgraced detective, these two form an unlikely pairing.

The two heroes of the force are detectives Highsmith (Samuel L. Jackson) and Danson (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson). They ride hard, shoot hard, and capture the bad guys . . . even if they are merely weed smokers. The opening scene shows them in action -- chasing bad guys through the city, shooting, crashing and more or less demolishing buildings. Their macho actions generate reams of paperwork that Gamble is happy to fill in for them. He desires only to work a desk job, risking nothing, staying safe. When the two main guys tragically die in a moronic act of heroism, they leave a void that must be filled by the other guys, Gamble and Hoitz.

Ferrell's humor here comes from his low-key character as a bean-counter. He is quick with words and numbers, not with guns. He prefers his iPhone apps and his Prius to handcuffs and a car chase. He even downplays the "hotness" of his sexy wife, Sheila (Eva Mendes). Indeed, when Hoitz comes over for dinner, he simply cannot believe she is Gamble's wife. But Gamble has an unexplained attraction for hot women, another quirk of this film.

Michael Keaton has a role as their police Captain and has a running joke with TLC song lyrics spoken unwittingly. His character amuses as a low-key cop who cannot make enough money in his job and so moonlights as a manager at "Bed, Bath and Beyond."

Money is at the core of the film. The two mis-teamed cops find themselves with a billion-dollar case when Gamble stumbles onto a money laundering scheme involving crooked investor David Ershon (Steve Coogan). Seen early on proclaiming a "gospel of excess," this sophisticated criminal has various gangs after him for misusing their money.

This gospel stands, of course, in stark contrast to the real gospel of Jesus. A man poor in worldly goods, Jesus' message resonated with the poor not the rich. When a rich man came to him seeking the secret to entering the kingdom, Jesus told him to sell all he had and give his money to the poor (Matt. 19:16-23). Not the kind of advice that Ershon would give.

The Other Guys lampoons the high-profile ponzi-schemes conducted by the likes of Bernie Madoff, and the other "too big to fail" collapses of recent banks and other industries. Ershon is dealing in quantities of money most people cannot even imagine. And with these kinds of deals, they cannot be allowed to fail. The closing credits give an entertaining but educational animated review of these real-life failures, putting them in terms that us ordinary folks can grasp. And it is not pretty.

The main theme of the film, though, is "the other guys" themselves, not the other guys' money. They are the uncredited heroes. From the start, Gamble does the "behind-the-scenes" work to keep the real heroes out on the street. Together, these two unlikely buddies set out to solve this biggest crime in New York City history, one that would go unnoticed except for the eagle eyes of an accountant catching a scaffolding permit misdemenour.

As we consider this superficial film, we can reflect on the uncredited heroes in our own lives. Friends, pastors, teachers, coaches, managers, there are many people who could fit this mold. But the ones that stand above the rest are our parents. Theirs is an often thankless task. While the kids are growing up, the parents are seen as restrictive, rusty relics of a bygone era with outdated ideas. For those of us who are parents we can resonate with this. But with time, we come to see that our parents were usually wiser than we thought, wishing our best, nurturing us to become the best we could be. Truly, they are the other guys, our uncredited heroes. While we may wish to be the center of attention, the heroes in the spotlight, we should stop and give thanks to the other guys who make our success possible.

Of course, we can look above, too, and reflect on the "Other Guy" who stands behind us and behind everything that is (Acts 17:28). God may not be visibly on the scene, but he is surely the one who is generally uncredited. If we follow Jesus, we would do well to reflect all honor we receive to him (Phil. 2:10). We are the mirror (Matt. 5:16), he is the light (Jn. 8:12). We can do nothing apart from him (Jn. 15:5). He is certainly more courageous than Gamble and more intelligent than Hoitz, but like them he works silently behind the scenes. He is my hero.

Copyright ©2011, Martin Baggs

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