Grown men streaking through the streets naked ... weaklings being hit between the legs with a rubber ball ... rival newsmen facing off in a gang-like street fight: These are only some of the memorable scenes brought to the big screen by a group of actors dubbed "The Frat Pack."
The friends’ arrested-development style of humor, also featured in "Zoolander," "Dodgeball" and "Starsky & Hutch," among others, has struck a chord with the movie-going public. But some complain that this inseparable group of funnymen have fallen into a rut.
"Hollywood has always tried to pigeonhole actors, and for a long time actors would resist it, but these actors are embracing this pigeonhole," said New York Post film critic Lou Lumenick. "I think Stiller is running the shtick into the ground. He appears in an incredible number of pictures in incredibly similar roles. Owen Wilson (search) is a terrifically talented guy, but he seems to be going for the easy paycheck," Lumenick added.
Though "Anchorman” made a strong opening-weekend showing with $28 million, it was beaten by the 2-week-old "Spider-Man,” a sign that movie-goers could be becoming weary of seeing the same old gags.
"Anchorman," which personifies the group’s sense of silly satire, stars Ferrell and includes cameos by Vaughn, Stiller and Luke Wilson (search), among others. (Owen would have been in it, too, but he was shooting another film, according to "Anchorman's" executive producer.)
Some fans say that even though they've had many belly laughs watching the Frat Pack’s comedy, they sense the actors’ hijinks are beginning to go stale.
"’Old School’ was genuinely funny. ‘Starsky and Hutch’ was better as a trailer…. ‘Zoolander’ was awful," said Timothy Charlton, a movie buff and self-professed fan of the comedic clan. "The group in general is very talented, but I think they lose some comedic objectivity when they wear multiple hats: actor, writer, director."
All of the actors’ shticks have become familiar: Stiller is the neurotic nice guy or the dim-witted jerk; Vaughn is the good-natured wise-guy; Owen Wilson is the laid-back ladies' man; Ferrell’s the laughable simpleton and Luke Wilson’s the straight man with an edge.
Lumenick said the guys appear to have given in to these caricatures, and while each actor is genuinely talented, the money and attention from Hollywood is probably contributing to their recurrent roles.
"People are just throwing money at these guys. It's hard not to succumb to the lure of big bucks," he said.
Charlton, an orthopedic surgeon, said the characters are funny, but he wishes the actors would expand their horizons.
"Ben Stiller, I like his work but it seems like everything is a variant of the same shtick…I don't think he's expanding his repertoire. I think he's funnier than what he's showing." Charlton said. He added of Vaughn: "I think he plays himself. I don't think he's really reaching."
But "Anchorman" executive producer Shauna Robertson, who also worked on "Meet the Parents" with Stiller and Owen Wilson, said the guys continue to work together because they have a great time, admire each other’s talent and bring out the best in one another.
"Their comedy elevates when they are around each other and everyone likes doing it," she said. "When the cameras turn on, these guys turn it up."
Robertson brushes off criticism that the group is treading the same path over and over. "We don't over-think our comedy," she said. "We still have a great time making these kind of movies."
And obviously, a lot of movie-goers have a great time watching them. Movie fan Ed Stautberg is one guy who helped "Dodgeball" nail the No. 1 spot in its debut weekend.
"I went to 'Dodgeball' opening night and sometimes I laughed so hard my friends asked me if I was all right," said the 21-year-old student from George Washington University. "You know going in what you are going to see, but still enjoy it."
For the moment, the group is still on a movie-making roll. Stiller and Owen Wilson have "Meet the Fockers" coming out in December; Owen co-stars with Vaughn in "The Wedding Crashers," debuting in 2005, and the Wilson brothers co-wrote the upcoming "Wendell Baker Story."
But Lumenick said the gags can only go on for so long.
"Eventually audiences will tire of this and move on to something, and the actors will have to reinvent themselves like Bill Murray has reinvented himself and the way Eddie Murphy reinvented himself."