5 March 2008 | zardoz-13
Just Another Sports Comedy with Too Little of Will Ferrell
Will Ferrell's fourth and latest sports spoof comedy "Semi-Pro" (**1/2 stars out of ****) is semi-delusional. For the record, it's not in the same league with his NASCAR comedy "Talladega Nights." The former Saturday Night Live comedian stars here as one-shot disco music singer Jackie Moon who bought his hometown basketball team with the bucks that he earned from his Barry White-style, one hit wonder, chart-topping single "Love Me Sexy." Not only does Jackie own the Tropics of Flint, Michigan, but he also plays on, coaches, and promotes the team! "Semi-Pro" takes place in the nonconformist 1970s, and the fictional Tropics compete in the former real-life American Baseball Association (1967-1976) with its trademark red, white, & blue basketball and its 3-point shot. Clearly, this nostalgic, occasionally amusing basketball farce aspired to be for hoops movies what the legendary Paul Newman classic "Slapshot" was for ice hockey and the Tom Berenger farce "Major League" was for baseball. Mind you, the pranks, the pratfalls, and the humor are quintessential Will Ferrell when he is front and center, but Ferrell isn't always front and center, and the movie lacks the non-stop, over-the-top comic buffoonery of "Talladega Nights."
"Semi-Pro" devotes more time to sincerity than frivolity. Half of this dribbling comedy focuses on straight man Woody Harrelson. An aged NBA, Boston Celtics champ, Monix (Woody Harrelson of "White Men Can't Jump") joins the team after Jackie trades the Tropics' ailing washing machine for him. As it turns out, the ABA is tottering on its last legs, and ABA Commissioner (David Koechner of the far funnier sports spoof "The Comebacks") and the other team owners have struck a lucrative deal to have four of their teams absorbed into the NBA. The remaining teams, including Jackie's Tropics, are scheduled to disband. Jackie goes ballistic at this dire prospect. Somehow, our hero with an Afro hairstyle convinces his fellow owners that only the best four teams should be absorbed. Actually, this happened in real-life. Unfortunately, Jackie later learns that each team must attract at least two thousand spectators for each home game. In an effort to improve the Tropics, Jackie trades for Monix. Monix spent his championship season with the Celtics, but he warmed the bench more often than shot hoops. Nevertheless, Monix sincerely wants to turn the Tropics around and make them into winners. Anybody remember the warm-hearting Gene Hackman movie "The Hoosiers?" Ultimately, this last hurrah for the underdogs that must win a championship game is standard, second-rate stuff that has been done too many times. Indeed, "Semi-Pro" surpasses "Kicking and Screaming," "Melinda and Melinda," and "Bewitched," but that provides little consolation.
An executive producer on "Balls of Fury" and "Mr. Woodcock," freshman director Ken Alterman and "Old School" scenarist Scot Armstrong slum for laughs in their raunchy, foul-mouthed, R-rated, 93 minute, boys-night-out bash. They have intrepid Jackie Moon pulling an idiotic Evel Knievel-style ramp jump with roller skaters over his team's foxy string of cheerleaders strung out head-to-toe on their backs across the court. Since the players cannot fight on the court during the game, Jackie has his guys slug it out with the other team during commercial breaks. At one point, Jackie promises to feed everybody at a home game a Corndog if the Tropics score over 125 points. They do and Jackie bails. Ultimately, in an effort to sell out his stadium, Jackie wrestles with a brown bear. Although the bear escapes, the woodland beast becomes "Semi-Pro's" best running joke as it strikes without warning.
Sadly, Alterman and Armstrong treat Ferrell as if he were a guest star. "Semi-Pro" relies more on half-hearted sight gags and the suspenseful but formulaic big-game-to-win showdown than the inspired lunacy that is Will Ferrell. Unfortunately, Ferrell shares the spotlight with Harrelson, and Harrelson gets a subplot with an old girlfriend and a romance. Surprisingly, "Semi-Pro" doesn't stoop to the standard kick in the groin for chuckles or any examples of juvenile bowel humor. The dumbest scene has Monix teaching the Tropics how to run a play until they puke. Incredibly, Jackie has never puked in his entire life. Monix punches him in the belly, and Jackie chucks everything, but not on camera. Altogether, this lukewarm sports comedy scores more chuckles than sensational, side-splitting laughs. Sure, you'll smile and sputter, but you won't be roaring at anything fresh or original.