(CNN) -- Remember last year's summer turkey, "Land of the Lost"? Well you can come out now. Will Ferrell is back on safe ground, goofing on the macho codes of the cop movie.
"The Other Guys" isn't as fresh as "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy," and it's not as boldly satirical as "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby," but even second-rate Ferrell is better than most. He's got his mojo back.
Taking a break from the overconfident bozo character he's played most often over the years, Ferrell is Allen Gamble, a square peg in the NYPD, a pen-pusher who rarely leaves his desk. He's also a magnet for the derision of the other men -- including his angry partner, Terry (Mark Wahlberg), whose once-promising career went into free fall after mistakenly shooting a man with a bat: Derek Jeter.
Terry is anxious to get back on the street and prove himself a hero ("I'm a peacock," he tells precinct captain Michael Keaton, "Let me fly!"). But Allen is too busy tracking down a paper trail, something to do with scaffolding permits that will eventually, inevitably, lead them to a prize Wall Street catch.
Wahlberg holds his own in this makeshift comedy duo, offering sharp, aggressive counterpoint, and demonstrating some unexpected dance moves. This allows Ferrell to keep his own peacock in check -- at least until Allen's repressed alter-ego, a pimp named Gator, hilariously surfaces.
Kevin Smith was trashed earlier this year for his self-conscious throwback to the "Lethal Weapon"-style buddy comedy thriller, "Cop Out." Ferrell and his most trusted collaborator, writer-director Adam McKay, take the humor that extra mile off the wall and will escape similar brickbats. But what they're up to here isn't all that different; it's just several notches loopier.
Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne Johnson are a gas as a couple of dynamic New York super cops, Danson and Highsmith, the kind who will crash a squad car into a double-decker bus then continue the chase with two dozen screaming sightseers in tow.
Terry and Allen can only dream of that kind of glory. They're the other guys, the last ones on the scene. And when they do get there first -- Farrell flooring it with an exultant cry of "America!" -- he runs over the corpse and coats his Prius in cocaine. ("It looks like Scarface sneezed on you.")
McKay lets the jokes lead where they will -- at one point, Ferrell's wooden gun is stolen then returned to him with a fresh coat of varnish -- so it's not surprising that his transitions don't always flow. Some cuts land like body checks.
But he's been given a hefty budget. The more extreme action scenes wouldn't look out of place in "Die Hard 5."
The excess doesn't make the movie funnier, but more bizarre, as the case finally zeroes in on one computer keystroke.
Maybe that's why we only see this kind of movie in parody today.