NEW YORK -- Is it a coincidence that the name of Will Ferrell's character in "The Other Guys" is Gamble?
With his newest big-budget comedy hitting theaters today, the A-list funnyman is betting he can deliver not just another hit, but one gigantic enough to erase memories of his most recent movie, the financial tar pit that was "Land of the Lost."
In the decade since he loosened himself from the "Saturday Night Live" tether, Ferrell has delivered half a dozen unqualified mainstream film hits. But last summer, he finally was forced to endure the sudden indignity of an unqualified disaster. "Lost," which Universal released during a prime early-summer June weekend, couldn't break the measly $50 million domestic barrier while carrying a production budget more than twice that.
Adding insult to injury, "The Hangover" crashed theaters that same weekend -- with relatively unknown stars at a quarter of the cost -- on its way to making $277 million domestic.
Now, the 43-year-old "Semi-Pro" star is angling for a rebound. Today, Sony opens "The Other Guys," an action comedy that reunites Ferrell with writer-director Adam McKay, who helmed three of Ferrell's biggest hits: "Step Brothers," "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby" and "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy."
"There's certainly a lot of perceived pressure because the last film did not do well at all," said Ferrell's publicist, Matt Labov. "So he's under the microscope more so than he would be if he were coming off a film that made $100 million or $200 million. It's been 14 months between the two movies, so hopefully some backlash has subsided and people are excited about the film and the publicity appearances. You hope that stuff and the word-of-mouth carries."
"Guys," penned by McKay and "Land" co-writer Chris Henchy, pairs Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg as mismatched, second-tier police detectives who get wrapped up in a white-collar crime investigation. The studio is expecting the comedy to open in the $30 million range of Ferrell hits "Step Brothers" and "Blades of Glory" -- this same August weekend in 2006, Ferrell and McKay's "Talladega" jumped off the line to $47 million, the actor's best.
"We're in Will's sweet spot," Sony distribution president Rory Bruer said. " 'Land of the Lost' was more conceptual. The really get-down-and-dirty comedies that Will has been amazing for us in -- whether it be 'Talladega Nights' or 'Step Brothers' -- we've had huge success with."
But even with Ferrell and McKay's track record, it's still a moment fraught with danger for the actor. Although Ferrell's 2005 effort "Bewitched," also released by Sony, drew critical derision and less than impressive boxoffice ($63.3 million domestic), "Lost's" performance was miserable in Jurassic proportions.
Producer Mike De Luca ("The Social Network") notes that Universal's trailers for "Lost" mixed genres in a way that may have confused potential viewers about the film's premise. And anyway, "the underlying material may not have been suitable for a feature adaptation whether Will was in it or not," he said.