He also probably has had the most success with co-stars that go beyond the core group of Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jack Black, Steve Carell and the Wilson brothers, Owen and Luke. Basically, this onetime “Saturday Night Live” kingpin (1995-2002) and member of The Groundlings improv troupe plays well with others, even if he is given to streaking across the screen in his birthday suit.
Not that Ferrell is averse to reuniting with his buddies now and again. He has said he is prepared to reprise his role as designer Mugato, known for his fashion line inspired by the homeless, for the recently announced “Zoolander 2.”
March has been a sort of proving ground for members of the comedy clique. Vaughn, whose “Unfinished Business” swiftly sank like a stone earlier this month, is struggling to maintain his movie star status. Good thing he has signed up for the second season of HBO’s “True Detective.” As for Stiller, he is taking a break from his highly profitable “Night at the Museum” and “Madagascar” family franchises and returning to indie-land with “While We’re Young,” his reunion with “Greenberg “ director Noah Baumbach that opens Friday after warm reception at the Toronto International Film Festival.
But neither of those titles have summoned as much advance publicity as Ferrell’s already controversial “Get Hard,” which also opens Friday. He portrays a wealthy white-collar criminal sentenced to 10 years in San Quentin who seeks advice about dealing with prison rape from his lone black acquaintance – his car washer, Kevin Hart, whom he just assumes has done jail time.
If any buzz is good buzz, then the enraged critical outcry (“racist” and “homophobic” were the adjectives of choice) that greeted the film when it premiered at SXSW should translate into at least a one-weekend box-office bonanza when it hits theaters on Friday. Fans of both comics will likely want to see for themselves how low their idols will go.
Any positive reaction to “Get Hard” focused on the sparks that flew between hyper 5’4″ Hart, 35, and the outlandishly clueless 6’3″ Ferrell, 47, who should both benefit from pooling their considerable followings.
While Ferrell’s movie track record has had its up and downs quality-wise, he is usually consistently savvy about picking the right partners to clown around with. Here are nine comedies that pit Ferrell’s far-out sense of humor against a (usually) worthy co-star outside of the Frat Pack gang, ranked from OK to the best.
9. “A Night at the Roxbury” (1998)
Box office: $30.3 million
Co-star: Chris Kattan
Ferrell, in his film debut as a headliner, and Kattan expand upon an “SNL” skit as the Butabi brothers, who are known for hanging out in nightclubs while bouncing their noggins like human bobbleheads in unison to Haddaway’s “What Is Love” while striking out with women . That explains the rather slim plot that revolves around the siblings finally being allowed to enter the hallowed Roxbury nightspot with the help of actor Richard Grieco (playing himself and not all too well). On the plus side, Ferrell and Kattan shared a similar fondness for making utter fools of themselves in their “SNL” sketches (such as Kattan’s dry-humping Mr. Peepers) and they throw themselves into this subpar movie with equal silly abandon.
Critical condition: SF Chronicle: “Let’s look at the bright side. America is still the land of opportunity if Will Ferrell and Chris Kattan can make a movie.”
8. “Semi-Pro” (2008)
Box office: $33.5 million
Co-stars: Woody Harrelson, Andre Benjamin
Ferrell probably took on this role as Jackie Moon, the owner, coach and forward of the Flint Tropics in the now-defunct American Basketball Association, just so he could don uncomfortably tiny shorts and a white-guy’s ‘fro while cursing like a woman giving birth without pain meds. Certainly, it wasn’t for the often random and strained attempts at humor in this garish ‘70s nostalgia trip about an underdog sports team. But at least he isn’t dribbling on his own. A strangely muted Harrelson plays a washed-up Boston Celtic benchwarmer recruited to help the Tropics to break into the more respected NBA. It’s up to Outkast frontman Benjamin to inject some much needed jock swagger as the Tropics’ star player who is nicknamed “Black Coffee.”
Critical condition: Like many semi-clever reviewers, David Ansen of Newsweek could not resist declaring “Semi-Pro” as “semifunny.”
7. “Kicking & Screaming” (2005)
Box office: $52.8 million
Co-star: Robert Duvall
Ferrell pretty much meets his hotheaded match in Robert Duvall, who summons the ghost of his “Great Santini” paternal past for this sports outing. They aren’t just coaches for competing kiddy soccer teams but also a combative father-and-son combo who bring plenty of unresolved issues to the field. Unfortunately, the potential for explosive comic friction between Ferrell’s soft-hearted oddball Phil (who somehow never learned that coffee is served hot) and Duvall’s gruff bully Buck is tempered by the PG-required messages about good sportsmanship. Still, there are a few choice exchanges such as this one. Buck: “You know how hard it’s been for me ever since your mom died.” Phil: “She didn’t die! She divorced you!” Buck: “Eh! To-may-toes, to-mah-toes.”
Critical condition: NYT: “Mr. Ferrell and Mr. Duvall are an amusing, if not entirely convincing, father-son pair, but you can feel both actors restraining themselves to conform to the movie’s soft, gentle vibe.”
6. “The Campaign” (2013)
Box office: $86.9 million
Co-star: Zach Galifianakis
A political parody about opposing North Carolina candidates running for Congress can’t even come close to competing with the farcical shenanigans of real-life elected leaders. But Ferrell’s preening hyper-hetero incumbent Democrat, who espouses the knee-jerk slogan “Family, Jesus and Freedom,” and Galifinakis’ meek and obliviously gay small-town GOP opponent backed by a pair of rich brothers, at least score some humor points together.
Critical condition: Salon: “Ferrell and Galifianakis are both terrific, the former as an entitled pretty-boy hypocrite in the John Edwards mode, the latter as a decent but bewildered human puppy who has yet to grasp basic facts about his own sexuality.”
5. “Blades of Glory” (2007)
Box office: $118.6 million
Co-star: Jon Heder
This comedy probably had its target audience salivating at the thought of Ferrell and the “Napoleon Dynamite” nerd wear flamboyantly skintight figure-skating costumes. But the premise about disgraced rink rivals – Ferrell as a sex-addicted man-child and Heder as an effete artiste – who join forces as on-ice couple in order to win back their medals is also promising. But as usually the case, the results are slapdash – plus, the sport at hand is already fairly over-the-top to begin with. Still, Heder’s dry demeanor is a fine foil to Ferrell’s predatory loose cannon.
Critical condition: Seattle Times: “Heder’s deadpan style merges nicely with Ferrell’s wildness. Many of the skating moves, aided by an array of doubles and some clever special effects, deserve a 6.0.”
4. “The Other Guys” (2010)
Box office: $119.2 million
Co-star: Mark Wahlberg
Stepping out of his sports-arena comfort zone and poking fun at cop-buddy pics was a good step for Ferrell to take, as was joining forces with tough-dude Wahlberg, who has proven himself to be a skilled comedian. Of course, they are polar-opposite law enforcers, with Ferrell taking on a rare milquetoast role as a desk-jockey detective who refers forensics work over chasing down the bad guys. Instead, it is Wahlberg who suffers from a short fuse. As a reluctant pair, they can’t compete with the alpha-dog coupling of Dwayne Johnson and Samuel L. Jackson, good-naturedly mocking their action-hero credentials as the starson the force. The plot that involves financial dirty dealings barely matters when Ferrell is at his goofball peak while Wahlberg glowers. Little wonder they are collaborating again in “Daddy’s Home,” due out this year.
Critical condition: Washington Post: “Ferrell, unsurprisingly, does most of the heavy lifting. As Allen Gamble, an embarrassingly nebbishy police accountant, he’s the geeky yin to Wahlberg’s hyper-macho yang, represented by Terry Hoitz, a disgraced former hot shot who has been exiled to desk duty.”
3. “Step Brothers” (2008)
Box office: $100.5 million
Co-star: John C. Reilly
Reilly brings a sense of menace to the table in this psycho-comedy and Ferrell sinks to an even lower rung than usual on the evolutionary scale of idiocy as two infantile middle-age jerks who become bunk-bed-sharing step-siblings when their divorced parents marry. At first, it is hate at first sight. But then the absurdity of their often crude behavior really escalates when they start liking each other. Either you want to see grown men beat each other senseless and sing both Bonnie Raitt and Andrea Bocelli songs or you don’t.
Critical condition: LA Weekly: “Ferrell and Reilly aren’t playing characters so much as they are personifying the ids of all those American males who either never learned to put away childish things, or who did and wished they hadn’t. “
2. “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby” (2006)
Box office: $148.2 million
Co-star: John C. Reilly and Sacha Baron Cohen
You can’t beat NASCAR when it comes to providing a fertile ground for sports humor and Ferrell goes to town with his celebrated good ol’ boy racer meets his match when a gay French Formula One challenger in the form of Cohen makes him lose his mojo, his wife, his money and his best pal and second-fiddle partner, Reilly’s Cal. But it doesn’t take long for Ricky Bobby to get on the comeback trail. Reilly does a fine job of being a likable lunkhead to Ferrell’s over-indulged champ. But it Cohen who really revs the comedy engine by adding a new level of lunatic energy to Ferrell’s usual silly business.
Critical condition: Slate: “The clash between the red-blooded jingoism of NASCAR and the fey artiness of Formula 1 is the animating joke of the movie, and thanks to Ferrell and Cohen’s giddy embrace of their characters, the joke goes surprisingly far.”
1. “Elf” (2003)
Box office: $173.4 million
Co-stars: Bob Newhart, Ed Asner
A lumbering oaf like Will Ferrell as one of Santa’s elves? You only have to picture it to laugh. Ferrell has never really topped his performance as the sweetly naïve sugar-addict Buddy, who leaves the North Pole and goes on a journey of self-discovery by finding his birth father – who ends up being a cynical children’s book publisher in the form of James Caan. But Ferrell is best matched with a couple of old comedy vets in the form of master of understatement Bob Newhart as Buddy’s adoptive elf dad (the sight of Ferrell sitting on his wee elfen lap is priceless) and Ed Asner as a crusty no-nonsense Santa. They provide the perfect counterpoint to the star’s boundless sincerity.
Critical condition: LA Weekly: “I cannot find it in my heart to spank a movie that boasts Bob Newhart in chrome-yellow tights, bifocals, and the same empty stare that made him the world’s goofiest television therapist.”