Back in the 1980s and ’90s, buddy-cop comedies were so prevalent—and so lazy—that you had to wonder whether screenwriters were just tossing generic descriptions into a hat and then pulling them out at random: “renegade,” “white,” “by the book,” “minority of choice.” But while The Guard teams an anti-authoritarian Irishman (Brendan Gleeson) with a straitlaced American (Don Cheadle), their dynamic is less Lethal Weapon than Archie Bunker and Meathead. Sure, there’s a crime to be solved—Cheadle’s FBI man is on the trail of drug smugglers, while Gleeson’s Sgt. Boyle seeks to avenge the not-unrelated murder of his partner—but plot and action alike are here just a pretext for casually racist cracks met with weary incredulousness.
Written and directed by John Michael McDonagh, The Guard boasts much the same acrid flavor as his brother Martin’s In Bruges, which also starred Gleeson (best known stateside as Mad-Eye Moody in the Harry Potter films). Its emphasis is more on eccentric behavior than on jokes, and even the bad guys, played by such terrific actors as Liam Cunningham (Hunger) and Mark Strong (Body of Lies), are depicted as ordinary professionals just trying to make it through the day. McDonagh takes perhaps a bit too much evident pleasure in his title character’s bad behavior and political incorrectness, but Gleeson and Cheadle are far too shrewd to let that overwhelm their expert banter. They do this tired subgenre proud. But please, no The Guard 2.