Mark Wahlberg: A New King of Comedy?

Mark Wahlberg has come a long way from his shirtless hip-hop hunk days to the movie star he is today. And even farther from his even earlier years as a young South Boston thug. He has honed his acting talents in a wide range of film genres, scoring hits (like the high-octane fortune hunt Three Kings and the Oscar-winning Scorsese drama The Departed) and misses (such as the uber-ridiculous Rock Star and Tim Burton's disappointing 2001 Planet of the Apes reboot). Recently, however, he's been flexing his comic muscles in movies like the Tina Fey- and Steve Carell-powered Date Night and his upcoming buddy-cop comedy with Will Ferrell, The Other Guys (in theaters August 6).

In Date Night (much like his cameo on SNL's "Mark Wahlberg Talks to Animals"), MW's character, Holbrooke Grant -- a pec-licious security expert who has no use for shirts -- smacks of another Wahlberg self-spoof, hearkening back to his Calvin Klein underwear model days. Hardly a stranger to funny films, MW also explored the silliness of soul searching in the existentialist comedy I Heart Huckabees. Wahlberg's current comedy kick comes on the heels of the dramatic roll he's been on for the last few years with films like The Departed, The Happening, and The Lovely Bones. While his role as trash-talking Boston police Staff Sergeant Dignam in The Departed earned him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination, The Happening and The Lovely Bones didn't fare as favorably. You might attribute his breathy, deer-in-the-headlights, Razzie-nominated portrayal of a science teacher confronting Mother Nature's murderous side in The Happening as a case of M. Night Shyamalan-itis (as the director and his movies are both prone to melodrama), but MW's take on grieving father Jack Salmon in The Lovely Bones has a similar though less distracting soft-voiced over-sensitivity that seems to be a Wahlberg signature. Nevertheless, overall MW has a respectable dramatic resume that along with The Departed includes critically acclaimed blockbusters like Boogie Nights (the rise and fall of '70s porn star Dirk Diggler, aka Wahlberg) and The Basketball Diaries (MW and Leonardo DiCaprio play high school delinquents who share NBA hopes and bad habits).

Yet upon closer consideration, there seems to perhaps be a common denominator that connects Wahlberg's most audience-pleasing performances. Though The Departed was a drama, Dignam's appeal was decidedly linked to his humorous, cocksure-cop 'titude (plus his potty mouth). A laughable bravado also present in Three Kings' gold-seeking "I'll bet you a Lexus they make Lexus convertible" soldier Troy Barlow.

Cocky, streetwise, shirtless ... Wahlberg seems to be at his best when he's most himself (whether it's his smack-talkin' South Boston self, his shirtless hunk self, or any other self), poking fun at himself, or even parodying a parody of himself. How could a man that dedicates a book to his member (the 1992 book Marky Mark) NOT have a sizable ... sense of humor? Not that MW shouldn't continue to play graver characters (though an acting coach, or a better one, couldn't hurt), but if comedy truly is Mark Wahlberg's natural element, perhaps he should continue to embrace his silly side. Is there any chance he'd consider collaborating with Samberg on a Mark Wahlberg Talks to Animals movie? Maybe his Entourage boys could play donkey whisperers in training. If SNL's Will Forte could make MacGruber work, anything's possible...