Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy were such a legendary comic duo that it's kind of surprising that the pair have not had their careers immortalized on the big screen until now.

That time has finally come with "Stan & Ollie," a solid bio picture that takes a little while to find its legs but once it does it really packs a nice little punch.

The film begins with Laurel (Steve Coogan) and Hardy (a barely recognizable John C. Reilly) at the height of their popularity. The partnership becomes fractured when Laurel refuses to sign a new contract with the studio, learning later that Hardy has agreed to the extension without him.

Flash forward 15 years later and the duo are finally back together, on a tour of Europe hoping to get a new film to rekindle their careers.

The tour seems to be going well, although bitterness from their separation still remains.

As Laurel and Hardy try to get past old wounds, they also discover how much they missed each other while having a chance to reflect on their legacy.

"Stan & Ollie" is essentially a two man film (although Shirley Henderson and Nina Arianda have significant roles as Laurel and Hardy's spouses), with Coogan and Reilly up to the task.

In a less crowded Best Actor field Reilly might have heard his name called during Tuesday's announcement of Oscar nominations in a performance that is among the best of his career. His transformation into Hardy is more than physical, providing insight into a man who made mistakes and tries desperately at the back end of his career to mend those wounds.

Coogan is also very good in a more understated performance than Reilly, with Laurel providing the ying to Hardy's yang.

Director Jon S. Baird does try a little too hard, especially in the first half, to capture the duo's on-screen magic by incorporating it in their real lives - a stunt that doesn't always work.

Fortunately, he keeps it most conventional in the second half - allowing the film to rely more on the work of its two leads. It's a wise decision because it really allows "Stan & Ollie" to find its voice and to have audiences realize how important these two men were to cinema - and each other.

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Sports Writer. Cover prep sports, Hot Rods baseball, Titans football, and is the Daily News staff film critic.

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