2008, R, 90 min. Directed by Kent Alterman. Starring Will Ferrell, Woody Harrelson, André Benjamin, Maura Tierney, Andrew Daly, Will Arnett, Andy Richter, David Koechner, Rob Corddry.
REVIEWED By Josh Rosenblatt, Fri., Feb. 29, 2008
Not being a fan of competitive ice dancing or NASCAR, I wasn’t bothered when Ferrell brought his inane brand of fraternity-house mockery to Blades of Glory or Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. Those sports probably deserved to be parodied (though some might argue that any parody was bound to be redundant), and if the country wanted to see Ferrell running around in his unmentionables while it was happening, then the country was entitled. But basketball … basketball doesn’t deserve the Ferrell treatment. Basketball is a sport of kings, a thing of beauty and elegance, America’s game. Which doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be mocked but that, if it must be mocked, it deserves to be mocked well, and Semi-Pro, unfortunately, isn’t up to the challenge. Like most sports comedies, Semi-Pro is about a team of lovable losers which unites to save its franchise from failure, shame, and financial disaster. Ferrell plays Jackie Moon: owner, coach, announcer, and starting power forward for the woeful Flint, Mich., Tropics. The year is 1976, a time when Afros and short shorts ruled the hard-court and the struggling American Basketball Association was preparing to merge with the NBA. Despite their dreams of NBA stardom, the Tropics are the dregs of the league, more famous for their belligerent radio announcers, bikini-clad cheerleaders, and empty arenas than their ability on the court. Which is fine with Moon, who sees basketball less as a sport than an excuse to engage in off-the-wall promotional campaigns (including halftime bear-wrestling matches and Evel Knievel-like roller-skating daredevilry). This is perfect terrain for Ferrell because it affords him endless opportunities to display his doughy, hair-covered body; shout profanities into microphones; engage in random acts of violence against himself and others; and generally make a spectacle of himself. In other words: Be Will Ferrell. It’s the same formula that turned him from a small-time stage comedian into a Hollywood superstar, and somehow it just keeps driving movie fans to distraction. There were people at the screening I went to who only had to see Ferrell’s face before they were weeping with joy, as if he’s some kind of slapstick messiah … or Barack Obama. Meanwhile, I just sat in my seat looking grim and feeling like an entire world of comedy had simply passed me by. Maybe Ferrell is beyond criticism. Maybe any man willing to show millions of viewers his underpants in the name of comedy should be. Okay, Mr. Ferrell, you win; I give up. Call me when your ice-fishing movie comes out. I’ll be there, in the front row, as confused as ever but resigned to cruel fate. (See "Will Ferrell Plays Dirty," for an interview with Ferrell.)