What Adam McKay learned from Luis Buñuel and John Cassavetes.

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Aug. 5 2010 4:20 PM

Adam McKay, Cineaste

What The Other Guys director learned from Luis Buñuel and John Cassavetes.

Also in Slate: Josh Levin reviews Adam McKay's new movie, The Other Guys. 

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Likewise, McKay's stated enthusiasm for the films of John CassavetesHusbands in particular—adds intriguing texture to the preponderance of grasping, delusional male specimens in his film and TV efforts. An improv-based, vérité-style chronicle of three suburban schmoes on a spectacular bender after the death of a close friend, Husbands is an unnervingly intimate journey to the end of the night that McKay has praised as "crazy funny, crazy sad, crazy dark." It may seem sacrilegious even to suggest any parallel between Cassavetes (or Buñuel, for that matter) and a director who once arranged for Will Ferrell to rub his prosthetic testicles vengefully on a drum kit. But whether he's writing a cult-forming SNL skit about sozzled sad-sacks bonding over a mythical colleague or producing an expertly pungent HBO series about a flailing flameout of a jacked-up ballplayer, McKay is drawn to chest-puffing mid-lifers surfing a wave of hard liquor toward a nervous breakdown—or at least toward the relative safety of other chest-puffing mid-lifers. So when Husbands' Peter Falk says that he likes sports because "you get sweaty and you feel good and you're with guys you like" (!!), one might think he took the words right out of the mouth of sportscaster Champ Kind in Anchorman.

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McKay's rawer, artier inclinations make one wonder why, at this point in his career, he would bother with a formulaic shoot-'em-up such as The Other Guys. The man has pulled off a NASCAR-authorized blockbuster that climaxes with a lengthy guy-on-guy kiss. He got audiences to the legitimately weird and anarchic (and insanely overpriced) Step Brothers, wherein Ferrell's stunted character beams with triumph after he figures out how to buy his own toilet paper for the first time. McKay could probably match a developing nation's GDP with the money he made off that video of his toddler swearing at Ferrell. He seems primed for a project that's politically incorrect in the best sense of the phrase: McKay, who in his Second City days portrayed Noam Chomsky as a truth-telling kindergarten teacher, wears his left-leaning populism on his sleeve, whether on Broadway, in his intermittent Huffington Post blog, or in the animated guide to corporate malfeasance tacked on to the end of The Other Guys.

In short, McKay can do anything he pleases—so why not try to dig out his inner Del Close or art-house auteur? Why not direct his own recession-era Husbands? (Reilly! Ferrell! Paul Rudd! This must happen.) Adam McKay, if you're out there, hear our plea: You and a low-budget labor of love would go together like cocaine and waffles.

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