Review: Ferrell miscast in painfully dull 'Downhill'

Will Ferrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfus in the film DOWNHILL. Photo by Jaap Buitendijk. © 2020 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved (Photo: Searchlight)

2 out of 5 Stars
Nat Faxon, Jim Rash
Writer: Jesse Armstrong, Nat Faxon, Jim Rash, Ruben Östlund
Starring: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Will Ferrell, Miranda Otto
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Rated: R for language and some sexual material

SALT LAKE CITY (KUTV) – Synopsis: While on a ski vacation in the Alps, an avalanche upends the relationship a man has with his wife and children.

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Review: The post-film credits tell us that “Downhill” was inspired by the 2014 Swedish film “Force Majeure.” It’s not an adaptation as much as it is a reimagining. “Force Majeure” was a black comedy. It wasn’t the sort of film that you would necessarily laugh out loud at, but there was a wry smile just beneath the surface.

“Downhill” purports to be a comedy, but that might have more to do with the casting of Will Ferrell and to a lesser extent Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Ferrell has taken on serious roles in the past, but they are so infrequent and have received so little attention that audiences see his face and instantly assume he’s trying to be funny. Louis-Dreyfus has shown more dexterity in her career, but she is still best known for her comedic stints on “Seinfeld” and “Veep.”

So, there I sat with an audience who knew nothing of the original film and simply assumed that they were sitting down to watch the latest zany Ferrell performance. They beg for something to laugh at. They find it in the moments when Ferrell blankly stares at the screen. He’s playing the “dumb male,” but this time he’s not doing it for chuckles.

Everyone on screen appears to be giving their all. The casting, combined with a script that feels crude, blunt and unnuanced, undermines those efforts. It's occasionally outrageous, but mostly “Downhill” is a painful, boring and generally unpleasant slog where audiences are asked to sympathize with the exploits of a wealthy family as they endure a fantasy weekend together. No thank you.

It’s been a few years since I watched “Force Majeure” and I intend to revisit it to see if my attitude towards that film has changed, but I recall the film feeling more relatable. Maybe the originality of the idea gave “Force Majeure” an unfair advantage. I didn’t care for “Downhill” at all.