A-Final-NightWhen Will Ferrell was struggling to break out on Saturday Night Live, the election of George W. Bush came as a gift from God. The new President gave him a character with a greater reach than one of those head-bobbing Roxbury guys–so it’s only just that Ferrell, now a marquee-topping movie star, should cap off the Bush years with this final homage. You’re Welcome America. A Final Night with George W. Bush is not so much a political satire as a fever dream, a hallucinatory exorcism. Ferrell paints Bush as an arrested adolescent, simultaneously self-absorbed yet without a hint of self-reflection, but beyond that there’s not much commentary on the actions or collective psyche of the Bush administration (though some of the most startling gags turn out to be true). Instead, Ferrell spins out 90 minutes of faux-personal anecdotes that blur into crass surrealism: Dreaming of a cabin getaway with another man that includes a description of a “Western-grip” version of a certain sexual act; gaping at a muscular Barbara Bush rescuing all the Bush men from a collapsed mine shaft; performing robotic dance moves with Condoleeza Rice; demanding a squadron of wild monkeys be trained for combat; and imitating, obsessively, a Castillian lisp. It is a very strange performance, captured live at Broadway theater and later broadcast on HBO. Ten years from now, audiences may stare, perplexed and hypnotized, at this show, unable to comprehend what it’s about–which may be entirely the point. –Bret Fetzer

Land of the Lost

land- of-the-lostHow to make a big-screen version of Sid and Marty Krofft’s Seventies TV show? In this case, place the thing in the meaty hands of Will Ferrell and give the special effects a big upgrade. If you grew up with the show, you will recall that Marshall, Will, and Holly fall through a time warp into a land where dinosaurs roam and all kind of weird things grow. In this version, Ferrell plays a disgraced scientist, Anna Friel a brainy postgraduate, and Danny McBride (Pineapple Express) the sleazy owner of a desert tourist trap that happens to be home to the time portal. This begins to suggest how this movie wants to have it both ways: keep some of the original’s kid appeal, but raunch it up just enough for fans of Judd Apatow’s movies. The result is that nothing really works very well. There’s no momentum to the plot, the locations are monotonous, and Ferrell and McBride are desperate in their attempts to generate something out of nothing. Granted, they succeed a few times–these guys are too funny to whiff completely–but the strain is visible. And although the effects, are competent, the movie can’t even get its fantasy rules straight (why is the T. Rex sometimes ferocious and sometimes indifferent?). Fans of the show will enjoy hearing the cheesy theme song worked in (Ferrell performs a zonked version) and seeing how the movie updates the menacing Sleestaks. But on a basic level Land of the Lost has no idea what it’s doing, or what it means to do. –Robert Horton

Step Brothers

step-brothersCrude, juvenile, and proud of it, Step Brothers stars Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly as two 40-year-old men, both living at home and leading the lives of 13-year-old boys, who are thrown together when their single parents (Mary Steenburgen, Parenthood, and Richard Jenkins, Six Feet Under) get married. Brennan (Ferrell) and Dale (Reilly) start out hating each other as only teenage boys can–but things get even worse for their long-suffering parents when they become best friends. Step Brothers gets most of its mileage from very lowbrow humor, but hidden among the farts and masturbation jokes is the suggestion that while these guys may be emotionally arrested, so are Brennan’s hotshot business executive brother (Adam Scott, Tell Me You Love Me) and his high-fiving frat-boy pals, just in a way that’s condoned because it makes money. Also crucial is that Ferrell and Reilly capture adolescence in all its gruesome glory–the awkward insecurity but also the egomaniacal, arrogant self-centeredness. Mind you, this isn’t the American version of The 400 Blows or anything–one of the movie’s setpieces features Brennan tea-bagging Dale’s drum set (and if you don’t know what tea-bagging is… well, you will after seeing this movie). All in all, Step Brothers combines the adolescent humor of producer Judd Apatow (Superbad, Knocked Up) and the comic chemistry of Ferrell and Reilly (who previously costarred in Talladega Nights)–fans of either will find plenty to enjoy. –Bret Fetzer


semi-proThe 1970s are back in all their excessive glory in Semi-Pro, an uneven but not uninspired Will Ferrell comedy about a professional basketball team that puts more energy into insane promotional schemes than playing well on the court. Ferrell stars as Jackie Moon, a former pop sensation who made enough money from a couple of hit records (the biggest: “Love Me Sexy”) to buy Flint, Mich.’s the Tropics, a disorganized bunch of losers with one genuine talent named Coffee Black (Andre J. Benjamin). Despite knowing little about the game, Jackie is the Tropics’ coach as well as a player, though his greater love is in coming up with such bizarre marketing stunts as wrestling a bear and attempting a motorcycle jump over a line of cheerleaders. When the Tropics look like they might be shut down, Jackie desperately agrees to let washed-up veteran player Monix (Woody Harrelson) take over coaching, turning the team’s fortunes around–just a bit. The film’s thin premise opens the floodgates to a series of absurd vignettes that suit Ferrell’s silly-satiric brand of frat humor very well. There are choice moments, such as Jackie’s table-shoving tantrum at a meeting of team owners (presided over by an aghast but tolerant commissioner, adroitly played by David Koechner), and his rapid escape from the Tropics’ arena when he realizes everyone in the stands has won free corndogs (at Jackie’s expense). Other performers shine, too, including Will Arnett and Andrew Daly as a glass-half-full/glass-half-empty pair of game announcers, and Maura Tierney as Monix’s former love interest. The script is by Scot Armstrong (The Heartbreak Kid), and the film is the first directorial effort of producer Kent Alterman (Mr. Woodcock). –Tom Keogh

Blades of Glory

blades-of-gloryTake two male figure skaters, throw in a preposterous storyline, and you’ve got Blades of Glory, a surprisingly funny film that almost makes you forgive Will Ferrell for his back-to-back 2005 clunkers Kicking & Screaming and Bewitched. This time around, Ferrell eats the scenery in his role as a sex-addicted, cocky skating champ named Chazz Michael Michaels. When he gets into an on-podium fight with his nemesis and co-gold medallist Jimmy MacElroy (Jon Heder, Napoleon Dynamite), both skaters are banned from competing in men’s figure-skating events. Forever. Their fall from grace is brutal. Chazz is forced to work for a D-list skating show, while pampered Jimmy is disowned by his wealthy and cold-hearted adoptive father (excellently played by William Fichtner), who only wants to be around winners. When Jimmy points out that he tied for gold, his dad cruelly says, “If I wanted to share, I would’ve bought you a brother.” Flash forward 3-1/2 years and Jimmy’s No. 1 stalker Hector (Nick Swardson) says he’s found a loophole. Jimmy’s been banned from men’s singles events, but there’s nothing that says he can’t compete in pairs skating. After a chance meeting with Chazz, mayhem ensues as the two rivals team up to go against the brother-and-sister team of Stranz and Fairchild Van Waldenberg (played by Will Arnett and his real-life wife, Amy Poehler of Saturday Night Live and Mean Girls fame). The Van Waldenbergs will stop at nothing to beat the competition, even if that means literally beating up the competition. They have no qualms manipulating their sweet little sister (Jenna Fischer, The Office) to seduce both men to try to break up the team.

The finale will be no surprise to moviegoers who know that comedies like this aren’t set up to make its leading men losers. But there is one brief skating sequence set in North Korea that will surprise (and shock) many viewers because of its brutality. Ferrell and Heder make a great comedy team. Though he has been accused of playing the same role since his breakthrough performance in Napoleon Dynamite and, to a certain extent, plays a similar type of role here, Heder is spot-on as Jimmy. He manages to convey innocence, bitterness, and longing–all within the span of a few seconds and while wearing a peacock unitard (You can understand why Hector is so enthralled with him). Look for guest appearances by real-life skating champs Scott Hamilton, Brian Boitano, Peggy Fleming, Dorothy Hamill, Nancy Kerrigan, and Sasha Cohen, who gets to sniff Chazz’s jockstrap. –Jae-Ha Kim

Stranger Than Fiction

stranger-than-fictionMuch was written about Will Ferrell’s first “dramatic role” as Harold Crick, an IRS auditor who begins hearing a voice narrating his life. But Stranger Than Fiction is hardly a drama. However, what Ferrell does–like Jim Carrey before him in The Truman Show–is handle a toned-down character with genuineness and affection: you believe he is this guy. Crick leads a lonely life filled with numbers and routines. While at first he considers the voice a nuisance, Crick decides more action is needed when it speaks of “his demise.” Enter Professor Jules Hilbert (Dustin Hoffman), who takes on the absurd notion with revelry, trying to find out what kind of book Crick’s life is leading. It turns out that the voice Crick is hearing belongs to Kay Eiffel (Emma Thompson), a very real–and troubled–author who is writing a book in which Crick is a fictional character. As usual with these things, the stuffed shirt learns to live a better life–Crick even falls for one of his audits, a brash baker named Ana (Maggie Gyllenhaal). Marc Foster (Monster’s Ball, Finding Neverland) has the right tone for the film, using great urban scenes (the unnamed city is Chicago) with interesting visualizations of Crick’s world of numbers. He also directs Ferrell, Hoffman, and Gyllenhaal to their most charming performances (plus Linda Hunt and Tom Hulce pop up in two funny scenes). Ferrell succeeds in being a romantic lead you can root for; a scene where he eats Ana’s freshly baked cookies is totally delightful without a hint of sarcasm. Screenwriter Zach Helm has two personal traits with his story: like Crick he followed his heart (he stopped rewriting scripts and only worked on his own) and like Eiffel, the final results are not a masterpiece, but good, and entertaining enough. Britt Daniel of the band Spoon worked on the dynamite soundtrack.–Doug Thomas

Winter Passing

winter-passingReese (Zooey Deschanel, All the Real Girls) is a brusk barmaid/actress, toiling away in the East Village fringe circuit. Her father is reclusive J.D. Salinger-like author Don Holdin (Ed Harris, A History of Violence). Reese hasn’t seen him for years. One night after a performance, an editor from a major publishing house (Amy Madigan, Carniv├ále), offers $100,000 for the letters he and her late mother exchanged during their courtship. Reese turns her down flat. Eventually, she changes her mind and takes off for rural Michigan to retrieve them. She finds the disheveled, hard-drinking Don living with former student Shelly (Amelia Warner, Quills) and ex-Christian rocker Corbit (a disarmingly straight-faced Will Ferrell). It’s a bizarre, if functional arrangement: Shelly cooks the meals, while Corbit serves as security guard. All try to make nice, but the coke-snorting, insult-flinging Reese won’t have any of it. She just wants to find the letters and go. This turns out to be trickier than expected, especially once she actually sits down to read them. Directed by and adapted from his two-act play, Adam Rapp’s Winter Passing is the kind of well-intentioned independent where longstanding family issues are solved in just a few days (to the gentle strains of Cat Power and the Shins). Nonetheless, it offers the unique opportunity to see Deschanel and Ferrell, Elf’s charmingly mis-matched couple, cast against type. As expected, Harris provides solid support, while Warner’s clear-eyed Shelly is the true heart of the story. –Kathleen C. Fennessy

talladega-nightSweet baby Jesus, we thank you for blessing Will Ferrell and Adam McKay with the talent to create a NASCAR comedy as hilarious as Talladega Nights. The so-called “Ballad of Ricky Bobby” is hardly flawless in fact it’s not always firing on all cylinders but with comedy star Ferrell and director McKay still hot from the success of their previous comedy hit Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, most of this 108-minute spoof of oval-track racing is so knee-slappin’ funny that you can’t help but surrender to the stupidity.

Obviously, Ferrell’s the shining star, and his portrayal of lead-footed pit-crew-member-turned-#1 NASCAR champion Ricky “I Wanna Go Fast” Bobby (how can you not love that name?) is spot-on perfect, righteously spoofing the entirety of NASCAR culture without insulting its oft-ridiculed roots in redneck bootlegging of a bygone era. You could even argue that Talladega Nights is truer to NASCAR than Tom Cruise’s Days of Thunder, and it’s certainly more entertaining, especially when you add John C. Reilly as Ricky’s life-long pal, teammate, and eventual rival Cal Naughton, Jr. (together they’re nicknamed “Shake ‘n Bake”), and Sacha Baron Cohen (from Da Ali G Show and Borat) as gay French “Formula Un” driver-turned NASCAR rival Jean Girrard, to a stellar cast including Molly Shannon, Greg Germann, Amy Adams and Michael Clarke Duncan.Sure, it’s mostly a showcase for Ferrell’s loud, over-the-top antics and nonsensical non sequiturs (like cameo appearances by Elvis Costello and Mos Def), but with Ferrell behind the wheel, Talladega Nights rolls into victory lane with fuel to spare, and there’s one final bit of comedy (with a tip of the hat to William Faulkner) for those who sit through the credits. –Jeff Shannon

Curious George

curious-georgeA wild collection of hip actors–from Will Ferrell to Drew Barrymore to David Cross–provide voices for Curious George, based on the classic, gentle children’s books. Ted (voiced by Ferrell, Elf) works at a natural history museum that’s fallen on hard times. The museum director’s son (Cross, Arrested Development) wants to turn it into a parking lot, but Ted offers to bring back a mysterious idol from Africa that’s guaranteed to pull in crowds. Unfortunately, the idol turns out to be three inches tall. But Ted (who, before he heads on safari, gets outfitted in head-to-toe yellow, transforming him into the beloved Man in the Yellow Hat from the books) accidentally brings back a lonely yet irrepressible monkey, soon dubbed George. In no time at all George gets into all kinds of mischief–painting an apartment, soaring aloft with a bunch of helium-filled balloons, climbing on a dinosaur skeleton, and generally getting Ted into hot water. Older fans of the books will probably wince at the formulaic save-the-museum storyline, as well as at the obligatory love interest (Barrymore, Charlie’s Angels) whose role is utterly passive. Jack Johnson’s songs are so bland you can’t remember the melodies even as you’re listening to them, and the animation (an odd but not ineffective blend of two-dimensional drawing and CGI) has grossly cutified the book’s illustrations, eroding their origina charm (the contrast is made sadly clear by a montage of the original drawings over the closing credits). But the basic relationship between man and monkey remains sweet, and younger kids will delight in George’s innocent troublemaking. –Bret Fetzer

The Producers

the-producersThe trend is to convert movies into stage musicals, but The Producers goes a step further: making a feature film of the smash-hit stage musical that was adapted from the 1968 film. The chief drawing card, of course, is Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick reprising their roles from the stage. Lane plays Max Bialystock, a legendary Broadway producer who hasn’t had a hit show in a long time. Enter nebbish accountant Leo Bloom (Broderick), who tells Bialystock he could actually make more money with a flop than a hit. So the two set out to produce the worst Broadway musical of all time, one guaranteed to close on opening night, with the collaboration of an outrageous cast of characters: Will Ferrell as sieg heil-ing author Franz Liebkind, Uma Thurman as Swedish bombshell Ulla, Gary Beach as director Roger De Bris, and Roger Bart as his assistant, Carmen Ghia, among others.

As directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman (who did the same honors on Broadway) and co-written by Mel Brooks, The Producers is laugh-out-loud funny. It’s also a relentlessly over-the-top, shamelessly bawdy, stereotype-ridden comedy that may turn off its audience just as much as its centerpiece, Springtime for Hitler, was intended to. But Broadway fans who are used to larger-than-life figures who play to the back row while showering the first row with spit, are likely to forgive and just enjoy the famous granny-walker dance, a supporting cast dotted with Broadway performers (playing a taxi driver is Brad Oscar, who originated the role of Liebkind on Broadway then later played Bialystock), or the mere spectacle of seeing Lane and Broderick memorializing the performances that millions never got a ticket to see. (For maximum laughs, stick around through the closing credits.) –David Horiuchi