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Thursday, April 12, 2007 02:47 am

The surprising Will Ferrell

Here’s one SNL grad who keeps getting better

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Untitled Document Comedy depends on the unexpected, and perhaps no one illustrates this better than Will Ferrell. After ignoring his work on Saturday Night Live and barely noticing his switch to film, I was surprised by the number of movies he stole in minor roles. Ferrell can easily match the buffoonery of Jim Carrey and Adam Sandler, but, unlike his main rivals, he varies his comedy roles. The current hit Blades of Glory offers a much less sympathetic Ferrell character, an obnoxious, womanizing championship ice skater. His rivalry with another champion (Jon Heder) leads first to permanent suspension and then to an unlikely male-male pairing. Ferrell and Heder glide through the silly plot. Blades of Glory is no great advancement for Ferrell, but it is a worthy addition to his comic filmography. One shouldn’t have to wait for the holidays to enjoy Ferrell’s first solo starring role, in the Christmas fantasy Elf (2003). Ferrell is a human raised as an elf by Santa and his helpers. Realizing that he is too large for the workshop, he ventures to New York to find his real father (James Caan). Ferrell’s clownish behavior works perfectly in the context of this ridiculous story. After the misfires of Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004) and Bewitched (2005) and the likeable but minor Kicking & Screaming (2005), Ferrell recharged his career with Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006). NASCAR is a natural, but overlooked, target for ridicule, and Ferrell runs with it as a dimwitted racing legend. Ricky Bobby presides over the perfect Red State family, a shrewish wife and two monstrous sons, hilariously named Walker and Texas Ranger.
Ferrell aspires to a higher level as an actor, and he achieved greatness rather quickly with one of last year’s best films, Stranger Than Fiction. Ferrell is a bland IRS auditor who discovers that he is a character in a novel after hearing the voice of the writer (Emma Thompson) in his head. At the emotional core is a romantic subplot with Maggie Gyllenhaal that in its short amount of screen time yields the best love story in recent memory. Stranger Than Fiction is a quirky tale that never loosens its intriguing grip. Ferrell has proved that he is an actor, first and foremost.  

New on DVD this Tuesday (April 17): Notes on a Scandal, Smokin’ Aces, 
The Last King of Scotland, 
Freedom Writers, and The History Boys. 
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