Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg's first encounter took place in front of hundreds of millions of people. It was the evening of the 2007 Academy Awards, and Ferrell and Jack Black were on stage firing mock insults and threats at the current crop of nominees. Ferrell unloaded on Ryan Gosling: ''You're all hip and now well, I'm going to break your hip...right now!'' Black lashed out at Peter O'Toole: ''I'm going to beat you down with my Nickelodeon award!'' Then Ferrell turned to Wahlberg, a Best Supporting Actor nominee for The Departed, and lost his nerve. ''I won't mess with you,'' he said sheepishly. ''You're actually kind of a badass.... I hope we're cool. You are very talented.'' Wahlberg smiled and nodded. The audience roared. Agents got ideas. And an unlikely comedy team was born.
''That little seed of a moment led to this whole thing,'' says Adam McKay, director of the upcoming action comedy The Other Guys, which pairs Ferrell and Wahlberg as a couple of mismatched New York City cops. In the PG-13 film opening Aug. 6, Ferrell plays a pencil pusher who, among his other quirks, is totally oblivious to the beauty of his stunning wife (Eva Mendes; see sidebar). Wahlberg, meanwhile, is a wannabe supercop relegated to a desk job for mistakenly shooting Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter. After languishing for years in the shadow of their precinct's alpha cops (Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne ''The Rock'' Johnson), these two squabbling misfits set out to take down a shady billionaire financier (Steve Coogan). ''We wanted to give [the traditional buddy-cop movie] our own spin and provide a little bit of commentary on all the financial stuff we're dealing with now,'' Ferrell says.
McKay and Ferrell have long been one of Hollywood's powerhouse comic teams, from their days on Saturday Night Live, through the films Anchorman, Talladega Nights, and Step Brothers, and their work as co-creators of the Funny or Die website. Ultimately, though, whether or not The Other Guys succeeds rests on the chemistry between its wildly different stars, whose only real point in common is that they're both famous for appearing stripped down to their underwear. ''The energy of Will and Mark is the oddest mix,'' says McKay. ''Mark is someone you don't want to f with, and it's always funny to watch Will with someone who really could kick his ass.''
Ferrell and McKay had actually been toying with the idea of working with Wahlberg for years, despite the fact that the former rapper and Calvin Klein model is best known for dramas like Boogie Nights and The Perfect Storm. (Wahlberg has flexed his comedy muscles in movies like 2004's I Heart Huckabees, and more recently in his fake feud with SNL star Andy Samberg and his supporting role in this year's Date Night.) ''We thought that intensity, that unblinking, menacing thing he has, put in the proper context, could be really funny,'' says Ferrell, 42. ''We learned on Saturday Night Live that it's fun to work with actors who aren't necessarily known for comedy, and just throw them into the mix, because they commit to the character and the idea.'' For his part, Wahlberg had been looking for a chance to star in a major comedy but hadn't yet found the right project. ''I didn't want to just do any comedy,'' says the actor, 39. ''Obviously, if you do the wrong thing, it can be disastrous.''