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MOVIE REVIEW: Ferrell delivers strong dramatic acting in 'Everything Must Go'

Special Photo: Roadside Attractions. Will Ferrell plays Nick in "Everything Must Go."

Special Photo: Roadside Attractions. Will Ferrell plays Nick in "Everything Must Go."

Everything Must Go (R)

3 1/2 stars out of 4

Will Ferrell has the odd misfortune of turning in the finest performance of his career with "Everything Must Go" -- and yet it's only the second-best movie of the week featuring someone who was or is a cast member of "Saturday Night Live." Ferrell can at least take solace in that he might get serious Oscar consideration and Kristen Wiig (in "Bridesmaids") probably won't.

Ferrell does here what many comedic actors have attempted to do many times before but largely failed. He's trying to convince audiences, who for the most part regard him as a moderately talented guy who makes largely idiotic comedies, that he is capable of convincing and moving drama.

The last high-profile "SNL" vet of any note to try something like this was Adam Sandler in "Punch Drunk Love." Sandler was good in it but his devoted fan base avoided it in a major way. It is likely the bulk of Ferrell's followers will do the same here, but not for the same reasons. Only once in the film does Ferrell "go nuts" and it isn't funny in the least. His isn't a character looking for laughs; he's trying to figure out how he hit the skids.

Director Dan Rush's screenplay is based on the short story "Why Don't You Dance?" by Raymond Carver, the same guy who created what eventually became Robert Altman's "Short Cuts." If you saw that film you know Carver is a no-frills writer who gets right to the point and cuts close to the bone.

In keeping with the original text, Rush wastes no time with the set up. It opens with Nick (Ferrell) sitting in his car seemingly psyching himself up for a sales call. We don't know what he's selling and it doesn't matter. His inner monologue is random quotes from any number of how-to sales/motivation books. He's rambling and he's cracking. He breaks into a sweat, grabs a silver hip flask, lifts it to his mouth and downs the contents in a single gulp.

In the space of one sweltering Arizona morning, Nick is fired from his job and his wife leaves him. Both events occur because he's an alcoholic. His never-seen wife changes the locks on the doors, shuts down his cell phone, cancels the family credit cards, freezes their joint bank account and puts all of his possessions on the front lawn. She doesn't just want to leave him, she wants to humiliate him and he deserves it. So what does Nick do? He stocks a cooler with Pabst Blue Ribbon tall boys, plops down in a lounge chair and begins to veg.

If you feel you've been given too much plot here, rest assured, you haven't. You've only been privy to the first 10 minutes and a key plot point or two has been left out. You've still got 100 or so minutes left to navigate and most if it is not pretty but all of it is touchingly poetic and nothing you would ever expect from Ferrell.

While they are low in number, movies about alcoholism tend to be very good but never anything you'd ever want to see twice. "The Lost Weekend" and "Leaving Las Vegas" are two prime examples. "Everything Must Go" bucks that mindset slightly by not being a total downer. But it also refuses to offer up any easy answers and is something that many of its fans will probably want to own and watch repeatedly.

There are many critics (myself included) who have slammed Ferrell in the past for starring in mind-numbingly vacant movies he made solely for gargantuan paychecks. He's also appeared in the occasional art film ("Melinda and Melinda," "Stranger than Fiction") that indicate he is capable of great things.

Ferrell has all the money he'll ever need and more than most of us could ever spend. It's time for him to man up, hunker down and make more movies like this. Here he's proven he has the chops; let's see if he has the resolve. (Roadside Attractions)