Surrounded by his many leather-bound books in his apartment that smells of resplendent rich mahogany, thespian Will Ferrell contemplates the universe and therefore exemplifies the acting cliche: to be or not to be. Ultimately, the question is moot: Ferrell just is. From his cameo in “Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery,” to this week’s “The Other Guys,” Ferrell doesn’t merely act; like Tom Hardy in “Inception,” he embodies his characters, taking the legacy of Konstantin Stanislavski, Lee Strasberg and Marlon Brando and bringing it to its ultimate conclusion.

While like many comic actors, he has a specific persona that he often employs, with tweaks, he’s not just a grotesquely hairy, shouty man-child. He is, of course, a grotesquely hairy, shouty man-child, but there are subtleties in all his performances that distinguish them; he’s certainly no one-trick pony. And while his career has had both highs and lows, as a great man once said: “60 per cent of the time, it works every time.”With “The Other Guys,” from Ferrell’s most frequent collaborator Adam McKay, hitting theaters today, earning the actor some of the best reviews of his career, and a return to more serious fare on the horizon, alongside Rebecca Hall in the Raymond Carver adaptation “Everything Must Go,” it seemed like as good a time as any to order three fingers of Glenlivet with a little bit of pepper and some cheese, and take a look at John William Ferrell; the man, the work, the legend, the male nudity.

One thing’s for sure. Ferrell has never met a sport he didn’t think was ripe for satire.

Will-Ferrell-in-Elf“Elf” (2003)
If you examine Jon Favreau’s ‘Elf” closely, Ferrell’s Buddy can be seen as a precise distillation of most of the characters in the actor’s filmography: an overgrown man-child who exasperates those around him through his lack of responsibility (he crashes at his father’s posh apartment) and his complete inability to act as an adult (he eats everything with maple syrup). But even though we’re known for our snark and cynicism here at The Playlist, “Elf” turns us into gleeful, giggling children who earnestly believe in the Capital-S-Spirit of Christmas. It’s not just the surprisingly spry Bob Newhart or even the swoonworthy Zooey Deschanel that win us over; it’s the wide-eyed wonder of Ferrell himself. He’s entirely sincere in a role that others might have played with more than a bit of irony, and his genuine joy is infectious. [B+]

Chazz-will-ferrell-wedding-crashers“Wedding Crashers” (2005)
“What is she doing back there? I never know what she’s doing,” on paper is an incredibly underwhelming line of dialogue, but thanks to Will Ferrell’s honest and unflinching portrayal of living-breathing contradiction — the man-child lothario Chazz Reinhold — the line is rendered as a work of comedic art that precipitates tears of awe. David Dobkins’ “Wedding Crashers” is far better than it deserves to be, but for all its cliches, it’s a timeless modern comedy with some standout turns (Bradley Cooper and Rachel McAdams fully blossomed in these parts). Ferrell’s part — the reclusive Casanova — is but a small cameo that lasts perhaps three minutes, but it’s a ravishingly psychotic turn as a shut-in who is both generously amiable with his mother’s meatloaf and wildly dangerous with nun-chucks, sometimes within the same breath. Ferrell essentially disappears into Chazz, a pioneering wedding crasher, so bored with the art he has perfected, he begins to up his sexual stakes into the realm of funeral pick-ups where grief is nature’s aphrodisiac. His proclamation of, “I’m just living the dream,” is frighteningly truthful. [A-]