With the upcoming "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone," Steve Carell and Jim Carrey are teaming up onscreen for the first time since "Bruce Almighty" (or, okay, since "Horton Hears a Who," but appearing as voices in the same animated movie never quite seems like "co-starring," does it?). That movie was something of a milestone for both men, as it was the beginning of Carell's film career and the zenith of Carrey's. "Bruce" ended up becoming the second-biggest hit of Carrey's career (and the biggest one where his face wasn't obscured by Grinch makeup). He hasn't come close to that kind of success since, and even his later hits -- "Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events," "Fun With Dick and Jane," "Horton," and "A Christmas Carol" all topped $100 million -- have failed to really capture the public’s imagination.
On the flip side, Carell's subsequent movies didn't make nearly the kind of money that Carrey's did, but for a while there, it seemed like he was comedy's new go-to guy. With hits like "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," "Little Miss Sunshine," and "Date Night" supplementing his work on TV's "The Office," Carell became a comedy all-star. But now he's been off of "The Office" for a couple years, he was eclipsed in "Crazy, Stupid, Love" by Ryan Gosling and his Photoshopped abs, and "Dinner for Schmucks" was barely a blip on the radar.
So if "Burt Wonderstone" represents the reunion of two comedy giants who are a good bit less giant these days, it brings up the question: who IS the top onscreen comedian right now?
Part of the answer to that question involves looking at the current state of comedy films. In 2012, only two comedies ranked in the box-office Top 20 for the year: "Ted" and "Men in Black III," and "MIB III" is likely far more an action movie than a comedy, so basically, we're at... just "Ted." So the state of mainstream American comedy is Seth MacFarlane. Right? Problem solved.
Well, no. One film does not a comedy king make. Let's talk after "A Million Ways to Die in the West" makes its mark. So if not Seth, who? Let's line up the usual suspects:
Like it or not (and you probably don’t), Sandler's movies are still a license to print money, but when was the last time that even the most horrifying bro in your office quoted from "Jack & Jill?" Or "Grown Ups?" The man sells tickets, but the bald-faced cynicism of his filmography is really starting to show.
The problem with the Apatow guys, if you can call it that, is that they all work really well together, in different combinations and collections. They’re like Potato Heads, if Potato Heads were man-children who smoked a lot of weed. But if you're trying to elevate one over the rest of them as the preeminent comedy star of the moment, they all kind of bunch together and keep any one of them from breaking too far ahead. Rudd, Jason Segal, Jonah Hill (who may have the most diverse career of all), they still feel like cogs of the same machine.
In the past eight years, Stiller has had ONE live-action hit that didn't have the word "Focker" or Museum" in the title. That might sound like a qualification, but they're telling. "Tropic Thunder" was the kind of movie that sets the comedic standard for the industry. Endless sequels to the "Fockers," "Madagascar," and "Night at the Museum" series are just echoes, and they’re growing fainter every year.
Robert Downey Jr.
Comedy has become such an important part of action movies, and Downey's smirking take on Iron Man certainly was the one to cement that element. But the Marvel movies and the "Sherlock Holmes" movies -- these ultimately still action flicks. RDJ may have been adopted by the fraternity of comedic actors, but he doesn't lead them.
"Anchorman" established Ferrell as the king of the comedy mountain, but since then, he's traded off hits and flops -- a "Talladega Nights" here, a "Land of the Lost" there -- in a way that obscures any attempt at drawing a clear line in the trajectory of his career. The fact that "The Campaign" fizzled makes it really hard to hand him the crown again, but "Anchorman 2" awaits...
How much did the quality gap between "The Hangover" and "The Hangover 2" hurt not only that franchise but also Galifanakis's status as comedy's heir apparent? I guess we'll see when "The Hangover 3" hits. He could stand to make his mark outside that franchise, however, and what I said about "The Campaign" above applies here, too.
Hmm ... If we're talking about right now, it's tough to deny McCarthy's momentum. "Bridesmaids" was Kristen Wiig's hit, but as McCarthy was the one who nabbed the Oscar nomination for it, and then got a bunch of notice for winning that Comedy Actress Emmy, more and more it seems like she was that movie's biggest winner. And now, she's pulled the unlikely "Identity Thief" across the $100 million line. If she and Sandra Bullock can do the same with "The Heat,” the King of Comedy -- whomever he has -- may have to cede his throne to a queen.