A pair beats a lone joker.
THERE’S been a lot of talk in Hollywood circles about Will Ferrell suddenly proving supple at the box office with The Other Guys.
Theories abound about Ferrell’s success with the movie (which began life as The B Team and changed names to avoid confusion with The A-Team). After all, the actor had had his share of duds over the last few years with the likes of Land Of The Lost and Semi-Pro.
But Ferrell hasn’t changed his brand of comedy that much between the hits and the failures, cultivating in most of these films a distinct dopily over-the-top persona with noted success. So explanations have gone elsewhere.
The Other Guys, the experts say, is the kind of material Ferrell excels at – a recognisable genre, in this case, a cop comedy. It had a well-crafted marketing campaign. It pairs Ferrell with sure-handed director and longtime creative partner Adam McKay. And the movie benefited from either smart or lucky timing (a comedy released late in a summer that has largely been devoid of them).
There is truth in all of these explanations. But maybe most salient is that in this hit, and nearly every other of his hits over the last four years, Ferrell had a charismatic and topname co-star. He has one in The Other Guys (Mark Wahlberg), just as he did in Step Brothers (John C. Reilly), Blades Of Glory (Jon Heder) and Talladega Nights (Sacha Baron Cohen, though with a little less screen time than the others). In his failures? Not so much.
The big-name co-star gives any film a marketing edge, since it means double the promotional power and, for audiences, twice the reason to see the film. But there may be a more substantive explanation as to why this works for Ferrell movies.
The actor seems to do his best work, or at least the work we like most, when he’s playing off someone.
All four of his recent hits are a type of oddcouple comedy, while all three of his recent failures are not.
In the last half-decade, this, it seems, is how audiences prefer to see Ferrell – as a foil. We’d rather he share the screen than dominate it.
Looking back at the actor’s recent trajectory, something else jumps out. Since Talladega Nights became a mega-hit four summers ago, the actor has had a number of failures and a number of successes. But he hasn’t had any of them consecutively.
His movies have essentially alternated at the box office: Talladega was a US$148mil (RM473mil) barnstormer, then Stranger Than Fiction made a modest US$40mil (RM128mil). He came back with a tidy US$118mil (RM378mil) for Blades Of Glory, then sank with US$33mil (RM106mil) for Semi-Pro.
Step Brothers ushered in a comeback with a US$100mil (RM320mil) gross ... and then Land Of The Lost put him in Nowheresville again. Now he’s back on top with The Other Guys.
Statisticians may call this an anomaly. When stars practise a one-for-us-and-onefor-them approach, alternating box-office results make sense. But other than Fiction, all of these movies are studio comedies.
Yet in light of what appears to be moviegoers’ preferred way of watching Ferrell – in a certain dosage, with another star on screen to absorb some of the oxygen – the every-otheryear pattern makes a lot of sense. We still like seeing him. Just not all the time. – Los Angeles Times/McClatchy-Tribune Information Services n TheOtherGuys opens in Malaysian cinemas on Oct 14.
Odd couple: Mark Wahlberg (left) and Will Ferrell in TheOtherGuys.