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Kyle Smith (Twitter: @rkylesmith) is critic-at-large for National Review, theater critic for The New Criterion and the author of the novels Love Monkey and A Christmas Caroline. Type a title in the box above to locate a review.

Buy Love Monkey for $4! "Hilarious"--Maslin, NY Times. "Exceedingly readable and wickedly funny romantic comedy"--S.F. Chronicle. "Loud and brash, a helluva lot of fun"--Entertainment Weekly. "Engaging romp, laugh-out-loud funny"-CNN. "Shrewd, self-deprecating, oh-so-witty. Smith's ruthless humor knows no bounds"--NPR

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    Will Ferrell’s Bizarre TARP Comedy

    By Kyle | August 4, 2010

    I like Will Ferrell. “Step Brothers,” “Anchorman,” “Talladega Nights”? Loved ’em. Loved “Elf.” Loved the way he shouted for “MEATLOAF, MA!” in “Wedding Crashers.” Now Willie’s all grown up and getting political! Uh-oh.

    Ferrell made a short earlier this year in favor of ObamaCare in which he satirized “insurance company executives” as the bad guys — blissfully unaware, in his man-child way, that insurance company executives were in the pocket of the White House.

    Now Ferrell and his writing partner/director Adam McKay think they have a really important message about capitalism. It’s so important that it interrupts, then takes over, then finally kills their (otherwise often very funny) new movie, “The Other Guys.”
    The movie is being sold as (like “Hot Fuzz”) a mock-cop epic, and it is. Or it was, at some stage of the process. But Ferrell and McKay introduce an investment banker (Steve Coogan) who represents Evil Capitalism and is even shown shaking hands with George W. Bush (whom Ferrell has said he would refuse to meet with, on principle).
    The Coogan character not only isn’t funny, but he becomes a bulletin board for Ferrell and McKay to post all of their bitter, half-understood notions about What’s Wrong With Wall Street. Like many idiots in the popular press, they are convinced that the Bernie Madoff scandal is somehow indicative of the way modern Wall Street crony capitalism works (when in fact it was a simple Ponzi scheme that could have happened anytime and has been happening for a century — but is relatively rare simply because of the inevitability of getting caught). The more the movie yammers on about pension schemes and misappropriated funds, the more you check your watch.
    I’m not really in the school that says comedians shouldn’t be political; they can if they want. And Republicans and Wall Street are legitimate comedy targets. I’m not even in the school that says comedians shouldn’t try to keep things fresh by trying on dramatic or dark themes. But “The Other Guys” isn’t sharp political satire (like “In the Loop” or “Dr. Strangelove,” both of them very much lefty films.) It isn’t, like “Trading Places,” an astute (and believable) Preston Sturgess-esque melding of broad comedy with topical material. “The Other Guys” can’t figure out any interesting way to mix its outrage with laughs. Instead it is (for long stretches in the second half) simply a screechy, speechy, huffing, puffing bore.

    Topics: Movies | 31 Comments »

    31 Responses to “Will Ferrell’s Bizarre TARP Comedy”

    1. Christian Toto Says:
      August 4th, 2010 at 7:28 pm

      I missed the George W. handshake moment … was it in a photo in the background?

      The closing credits were a laugh riot, eh? Where’s my scratch pad and sense of outrage?

    2. VVinterNight Says:
      August 4th, 2010 at 7:47 pm

      I agree with you that his pre-political movies were hilarious. Step Brothers was great IMO. Dude, I really think Adam McKay is losing it, along with Ferrell. After he did that stand up as “Bush” I think he might have possibly had his head enlarged, like Bill Maher and Jeneane Garofollo took a dump in his brain. Or at least that’s what it seems like. It’ll show how much of a mistake they made when it crashes and burns because their failure to realize that the American people just don’t give a $hit anymore. They had a chance to fix the script months ago and instead just demolished the freekin’ thing. The audience that it’s aimed at(PG-13) are going to have NO clue who Dick Cheney is due to the fact that they were relatively young when Bush was still POTUS. The people who are old enough (now that most have their eyes partially opened.) are going to see it for what it is: Liberal BS. People know the truth and that’s why it will do so bad. God, Mark Wahlberg, what are you thinking??

    3. Jamesb Says:
      August 5th, 2010 at 1:35 am

      Whew, thanks Kyle – that was a close shave – $17.00 (for 2 or whatever-I’m a matinee guy) plus the cost of refreshments saved!

      I too liked “Talledega Nights” and “Old School”, “Elf”, and Ferrel was hysterically funny in “Zoolander” absolutely classic, but –

      – really though, shouldn’t someone inform these Hollywood millionaires to stick to what they know best – non political comedy – and leave the liberal cheerleading to the Main Stream Media – which is what they know best.

    4. K Says:
      August 5th, 2010 at 1:38 am

      Yeah, okay.

      You say the movie wallows in leftist primativism, which means it will take maybe a 15-25 percent domestic gross hit. It will more than make up for it where they don’t care about the details and are just interested in seeing evil American capitalists getting their just reward.

    5. Hunter Tremayne Says:
      August 5th, 2010 at 4:31 am

      You really get the impression that every time Kyle sits down to review a movie he is champing at the bit for the part where a movie is A) rude about the Army B) Rude about George W Bush C) Rude about Dick Cheney D) Rude aboout Republicans E Nice to Obama of F) Rude about America Not Being The Greatest and Most Perfect Country In The History Of The World. Most people go to the movies to have a good time; Kyle goes to see one spoiling for a fight.

    6. TRO Says:
      August 5th, 2010 at 9:03 am

      “Most people go to the movies to have a good time; Kyle goes to see one spoiling for a fight.”

      I would say all people go to the movies to have a good time. The problem is Hollywood insults half of those people by dissing their political and social beliefs. The conservative half. So for conservatives it’s not a good time to sit through movies like this.

      Of course it’s not a problem for liberals because they really enjoy seeing conservatives insulted. It’s fun.

      I’d love to see Hollywood make some movies REALLY insulting liberal sensibilities and then hear the left howl.

      Like that will ever happen though . . .

    7. KS Says:
      August 5th, 2010 at 9:06 am

      I haven’t seen many of WF’s movies, but I liked “Stranger than Fiction.”

      Chelsea Clinton just married an investment banker. They must be okay now.

    8. Robert P. Says:
      August 5th, 2010 at 9:24 am

      RE: TRO

      It did happen! Team America: World Police. Buried treasure.

      Sean Penn:

      “I’ve been to Iraq, you know! Before Team America got there, the children all laughed and played in rivers of chocolate with gumdrop smiles!”

    9. Kyle Says:
      August 5th, 2010 at 9:47 am

      @Hunter, to quote those immortal sages Itchy and Scratchy: We fight. We fight. We fight we fight we fight!

    10. Brandon Says:
      August 5th, 2010 at 10:16 am


      It’s hard to enjoy something when you’re constantly having to be on guard for an insult. Going to the movies for the last 5 years or so has gotten to be like hanging out with an aggravating older brother. Yeah you can have fun but then all of a sudden out of no where he punches you in the shoulder and causes your whole arm to go numb. That is the modern day movie experience for conservatives and libertarians at this point.

    11. Mary Says:
      August 5th, 2010 at 10:31 am

      Thanks for saving me the money. Doesn’t anyone just make FUNNY movies anymore, with the emphasis on FUNNY?

    12. Christopher Says:
      August 5th, 2010 at 10:45 am


      Good God stop the whining! That may be the most pathetic few sentences of bitching I’ve read in a while. Are you really that sensitive to insults to your political perspective from a bunch of pop film makers?

      And when was this Golden Age in which Hollywood was sweet on conservatives and libertarians? I seem to have missed it.

      Go watch “The Incredibles” and relax.

    13. Brandon Says:
      August 5th, 2010 at 12:07 pm


      It’s not a matter of whining it’s a simple fact and also it’s not about sensitivity it is about practicality. How much money would you pay me to insult you? That is the issue. People like Kyle and Big Hollywood do us a service by letting us know who plans on insulting us and allowing us to decide rather the overall product is worth having to put up with the insults. It’s not “bitching” or “whining” it’s simply allowing us to make an informed decision.

      There never was a godlen age where Hollywood was sweet on Conservatives or Libertarians but there was a golden age where Hollywood just wrote a story without sticking needless political jabs in it. If any of these political points were necessary for the story I’d be the last to complain but when it’s just thrown in there by some frothing at the mouth leftist incapable of controlling their mental disorder it’s a bit annoying. Imagine watching “Casablanca” and suddenly for no reason at all Bogart says “I hate fags”. Do you think gay people would still enjoy the movie or would that needless and pointless insult taint the movie for them?

    14. TRO Says:
      August 5th, 2010 at 12:29 pm

      R: Robert P

      Yeah, I forgot about Team America. But really it only poked fun at Hollywood elitist hypocrits and did just as much poking at conservatives. I’d call that one a draw.

      Re: Brandon

      “Are you really that sensitive to insults to your political perspective from a bunch of pop film makers?”

      You’re joking, right? There is no one as intolerant as a liberal. Hollywood won’t even make a movie that makes fun of liberal political/social perspectives for fear whoever does it will be run out of town.

    15. Kyle Says:
      August 5th, 2010 at 1:05 pm

      Team America is the embodiment of the phrase “the exception that proves the rule.” There is nothing else like it.

    16. Christopher Says:
      August 5th, 2010 at 1:09 pm

      TRO– Did I say that the left is tolerant of other perspectives? No, of course not. Just because the left is a bunch of overly sensitive whiners doesn’t mean that it’s a good idea for the right to be the same thing.

      Does most of Hollywood lean strongly to the left? Of course. But the fact remains that the types of movies that make money are the types of movies that will get made. Yes, there will always be exceptions, just as many products fail, but money is still what matters most. Do you think the endless action films in that featured Hispanics and Muslims (or, in earlier days, Russians) as enemeis were made to make the left happy ? Of course not. They were made because people kept buying tickets to see those kinds of movies. For anyone with even vaguely libertarian leanings to be bitching about the market is just a bit sad.

    17. Christopher Says:
      August 5th, 2010 at 1:21 pm

      Brandon, my last comment was made before I read yours.

      I don’t think there’s anything at all wrong with avoiding movies you think (or know) will offend you. You have every right to avoid those films and go to ones you like. I’m all in favor of voting with your wallet.

      No, Rick didn’t suddenly note that he “hates fags” in Casablanca, but there are plenty of examples that are pretty darn close from past cinema. Gay stereotypes were pretty much an easy laugh up through the early 80’s. Mickey Rooney’s Japanese neighbor in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (or, a bit more recently, Long Duk Dong) are certainly just as offensive.

      Will Ferrel has been consistently insulting Bush for a while now. I just don’t see how one could find this surprising. And rich people as an object of scorn in derision in popular entertainment? This is hardly new.

      I guess I reacted so strongly to your original comment because the image of a cringing boy waiting to be punched in the arm unexpectedly by older brother Hollywood is just such a pathetic one. If the right (and I can only put myself in that segment in an economic sense) has become so sensitive to slights that this metaphor is an appropriate one, then it needs to do some serious soul searching.

    18. Kyle Says:
      August 5th, 2010 at 1:58 pm

      But Christopher, is not Hollywood a market failure? The more overt the lefty message (as a general rule), the more likely the film is to flop. “In the Valley of Elah,” “Green Zone,” “Capitalism: A Love Story,” “Rendition.” All money-losers. If Hollywood were more market-oriented, it would put out a lot more Christian and flag-waving stuff and a lot less anti-war and anti-capitalist stuff. Since Will Ferrell is risking other people’s money, he doesn’t care that much whether his politics are going to cost this movie box office receipts.

    19. Robert P. Says:
      August 5th, 2010 at 2:03 pm

      RE: TRO

      I don’t know if I’d call it a draw. I’d say it’s 70-30 in poking fun (tilting in favor of satirizing the left), but in the end I think it’s clearly a conservative comedy.

      Just listen to the lead character’s classic speech at the end (which I probably can’t quote due to censoring on the site).

    20. Christopher Says:
      August 5th, 2010 at 2:27 pm

      Kyle– No, it’s not, overall. I’m certainly not saying that the US film market is 100% efficient in economic terms. As we are human beings who do not respond with pure rationality to economic stimuli, no market is. Moreover, as you know, pictures get green-lit and often even made long before they are released in many cases. There’s always going to be a lag time for market data points to influence future productions. Do you think it will be as easy for the fat dude to get easy funding for his next “documentary” after “Capitalism…”? I don’t.

      I also think we may be underestimating the number of films that have basic Christian or at least pro-US messages. Are they really that few and far between? I’m not talking about something like “The Passion…” but rather films that affirm basic Christian values and the general idea that the US is a perhaps flawed but still great country. Do such films really represent a minority of the films being made in terms of production costs (which is a more meaningful stat, I think, than simply the number of films)?

      But again, I don’t deny that most people in Hollywood lean left (in an American sense) and are more likely to make a film that supports their basic view of the world. Is it not the case ( and I don’t mean this as a jab, really) that the NY Post loses a considerable amount of money each year? Clearly Mr. Murdoch as reasons beyond pure financial ones for running the paper the way he does. I have no problem with that.

      Again, my larger complaint is about the metaphor Brandon used. I’m sick of both sides bitching and whining about being “offended” by this or that aspect of pop culture. There’s so much ammo for each faction that the pointless bitching could go on forever.

      In the long run, don’t you think that Hollywood has probably done more to spread individualism and love of America through the world than any other single aspect of US culture? I think it has, and I’m more than willing to deal with the extra crap for that overwhelming good.

    21. Kyle Says:
      August 5th, 2010 at 4:15 pm

      Christopher, interesting but you don’t really respond to the moral hazard issue. Ferrell is spending, ultimately, stockholder money to assert his own political fury. Studios do this all the time. The lag time isn’t really an issue — any dope knows that lefty political movies don’t sell, never have, never will (Fahrenheit 911 being almost the only big exception) and that sneaking lefty political messages into what purport to be popcorn movies will have a cost, box-office wise. I speak not as a whiner but simply to marvel at the cost-benefit issue. As for Christian messages, maybe you define it differently than I do but if Hollywood were strictly profit-oriented they’d do lots of movies in which people get redeemed through Christ, talk to angels, etc.

    22. Christopher Says:
      August 5th, 2010 at 4:51 pm

      Kyle– You may be correct about movies in which people talk to angels, etc., but I just don’t know what the real numbers are (how did the second Naria film do, or the TV show “Touched by an Angel” or the films of that very popular series about the rapture the name of which escapes my heathen mind at the moment, oh yes, “Left Behind”)? It’s also not a simple question of ticket sales. What if such a film (we’ll call it “Glories of the Divine”) sells more tickets than, say, “Adam Smith Sucks” but the people who go to see GOD tend to buy fewer high-end cars than those who go to see ASS? Obviously all sorts of product placement, etc. decisions are made on the basis of such questions.

      Actually, I’m somewhat skeptical of the claim that the Christian message is really a key to success. It doesn’t seem to be the case in other media, from music to books. Yes, there are big best-sellers with Christian themes such as “Left Behind” and “The Shack,” but there’s also “The Da Vinci Code,” and “The Girl Who…” The first is arguably anti-Christian and the second is very Euro-secularist. Explicitly Christian books, music, and films have a strong niche audiences but I’m not convinced they go beyond that.

      As for the moral hazard question, I suppose it depends on what those stockholders think about what Ferrell is doing and its relative value. If he keeps making films that lose money because of their political content, then one assumes studios and the folk who ultimately own them will stop hiring him. If they do not do so in spite of this, perhaps they like his politics and are willing to sacrifice some profit to support him. Or perhaps they know that leftist politics make a film more likely to gain critical acclaim and want to share in this in spite of its financial costs. This is a regular part of all sorts of purchasing decisions people make, be it buying crappy American cars for certain political reasons or buying over-priced food at Whole Foods for other ones.

      Though I didn’t see it, doesn’t Avatar have a pretty explicitly leftist message?

      And if Hollywood were strictly profit-oriented wouldn’t they just do porn? O.K, maybe Christian porn.

    23. Kyle Says:
      August 5th, 2010 at 5:54 pm

      Sort of…but Hollywood is a bit like Wall Street in that the immediate pay decisions are made by cronies of the talent rather than by the shareholders via the boards, because the execs handpick the boards. In both cases, the salary decisions are pretty hard to justify.

      As for product placement, with the exception of the product placement of China paid for by China in “The Karate Kid,” I am not privy to the numbers but I suspect they don’t wind up being big ones. More like a few bucks here and there. I was surprised to read that book about the making of “Natural Born Killers” (written by that chick who is now a blogger for Firedoglake) in which one of the producers said to Oliver Stone, I have this great connection with this boot company. Free boots for everyone on the set if we just use their product in the movie! And Stone replied, “Cool! Let’s do that!”

    24. KS Says:
      August 5th, 2010 at 6:25 pm

      There’s a movie in production called “Soul Surfer,” with Dennis Quaid, Helen Hunt, and AnnaSophia Robb, about the young surfer who lost her arm in a shark attack. I wonder how much of her faith they will show in the movie, and I wonder how popular it will be.

      In addition, I’ve read that Reese Witherspoon is going to star in a movie about blogger Ree Drummond (Pioneer Woman), who is a Christian homeschooling rancher’s wife and cookbook author.

      A lot of Christians want to see the same movies as the general audience, but without gratuitous explicit sex and profanity and stereotypes of people who go to church.

    25. Hunter Tremayne Says:
      August 5th, 2010 at 8:40 pm

      One thing that should be borne in mind is this: Nikkie Finke reported this week that US movies are now responsible for only 30% of a movie’s grosses. What this means is, if you have a movie that waves the flag – like, for example, the excellent Kevin Bacon picture, Losing Chase – you are better off making that movie for a domestic pay cable channel like HBO, where it will thrive, than hurling that picture into a world, which, sadly, currebtly holds the USA in disrepute.

      As for Christian movies, I would point out that great movies made for Christian audiences dies out with Ben-Hur. There is simply not a large enough marketplace in America these days to remake movies like that; more importantly, no major creative artists are writing new movies based on Christian ideals. We have all seen low-budget movies, like the “Left Behind” series, that preach to the converted, and they are awful.

      My final point being this: if a writer wrote a wonderful movie based on Christian ideals that would make a wondeful movie IN ITS OWN RIGHT, which means a great movie, period, not kowtowing to the left or the right, then it would be made.

      The right is not held back by leftist Hollywood: it is held back by lousy screenplays.

    26. KS Says:
      August 5th, 2010 at 8:50 pm

      @Hunter, I agree. “Amazing Grace” with Ioan Gruffudd and Albert Finney was all right but could have been so much better.

    27. Kyle Says:
      August 5th, 2010 at 8:55 pm

      And what of “The Blind Side”? Grossed a quarter of a billion, Hunter.

    28. Hunter Tremayne Says:
      August 5th, 2010 at 10:11 pm

      Well, Kyle, I am certainly not going to diss a movie whose star I once danced with, and Sandy was wonderful in the movie, but your point only makes my argument: it had a great screenplay..

    29. Kyle Says:
      August 6th, 2010 at 9:26 am

      You danced with Tim McGraw? Is he a good kisser?

    30. Hunter Tremayne Says:
      August 6th, 2010 at 10:24 am

      Not as good as you.

    31. Kyle Says:
      August 6th, 2010 at 11:32 am