Assessing Will Ferrell: Land of the Lost Career?
Date of Assessment: May 11, 2011
Positive Buzzwords: "SNL"
Negative Buzzwords: Played out, overexposed
The Case: As an upfront disclosure, I must admit that Will Ferrell is not really my kind of comedian although, in his "SNL" capacity, he was actually pretty funny at times during the Janet Reno, George W. Bush, Alex Trebek, ridiculous male cheerleader, and even the Roxbury brother skits. As far as post-"SNL" careers go, Ferrell has enjoyed a pretty extended run. While he's no Bill Murray or Steve Martin, well, who is? The thing is, comedians rarely last too terribly long, no matter their shtick. To survive, they simply have to be able to revamp their images periodically, and Ferrell has already tried his hand a drama a few times in movies such as Stranger Than Fiction and Winter Passing. This weekend, he'll attempt to take a page from the Bill Murray handbook with a very serious turn as an alcoholic salesman in Everything Must Go because, thanks to one huge flop, the world seems ready to declare his career to be over.
That flop, of course, was Land of the Lost, which pulled in a mere $18 million opening weekend on a $100 budget. Exactly what was the problem here, other than very few people caring to watch Farrell in a PG film? Whatever the cause, the consequences included Forbes (in 2009) naming Ferrell the most overpaid star in Hollywood. Two years later and after a moderately successful pairing with Mark Wahlberg in a buddy action flick, The Other Guys, some extraordinarily easy voice work in Mega Mind, and a pretty horrible turn as the future King Ad-Rock in FIght for Your Right Revisited, can Will Ferrell make a comeback as a leading man?
Further, do we even care?
During Ferrell's initial move into feature films, he was pretty smart about easing onto theater screens with a very small role as Mustafa, a henchman of Dr. Evil, in both Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery and Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. As he continued throughout 140 episodes of "SNL," he also also appeared within three spinoffs (A Night at the Roxbury; Superstar; and The Ladies Man) with very bad results but, of course, this wasn't really his fault because most "SNL" skits translate into horrible movies.
Outside of "SNL," Ferrell quickly gained ground as a movie "star" with roles in the following movies -- Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back; Zoolander; Old School; Elf; Starsky & Hutch; Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy; The Wendell Baker Story; Kicking & Screaming; Bewitched; The Producers; Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby; Semi-Pro; Step Brothers -- most of which did not feature any dramatic stretching but mostly consisted of Ferrell hamming it up in highly varied derivatives of the same sort of overgrown man-child character.
The thing is that I'd like to hate on Ferrell, for even though I recognize his potential as a diverse actor, I still can't help but just think of him as "Frank the Tank." Still, he gave a pretty good show in the black comedy, Drowning Mona, and he also was rather charming in Melinda and Melinda even if, as a whole, it was merely another contemporary Woody Allen that otherwise missed the mark. The sad thing is that it's a rather common opinion now that Will Ferrell is at his best in tiny cameo roles within films that already have a lot going for them. (A pretty good example would be his take on Chazz Reinhold in Wedding Crashers) Perhaps this is an indication that the tide has turned for Ferrell as a leading man, and he's best at this stage in his career as a supporting player, where he can give his audience just enough skeevy obnoxiousness that they'll appreciate his efforts but not be overwhelmed.
Prognosis: Ferrell might have learned something from the Land of the Lost experience. In the immediate future, he's diversifying the resumé with a Spanish film, Casa De Mi Padre, and a dramatic indie movie, Everything Must Go, which receives a limited release this weekend. He's also got a shit ton of stuff in development including something called King Dork. If all else fails, he can probably keep making guest appearances on television shows like "30 Rock" and "The Office" and working on the "Funny of Die" website, which he co-launched in 2007 with Adam McKay. Learning to live off the profits of an internet website just might be exactly what he needs.
Agent Bedhead lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She and her little black heart can be found at agentbedhead.com.