Thursday, February 28, 2008
Will Ferrell fans, take note: the master buffoon has let us down in Semi-Pro, but it’s not for a lack of trying. Just the opposite, actually. We’re used to him doing absurd things for a laugh (streaking in Old School, for example), but in Semi-Pro the vulgarity and stupidity of his actions feel silly, desperate and forced (undoubtedly some would argue his comedy has always felt this way).
The year is 1976, and Ferrell is Jackie Moon, the owner/coach/power forward of the Flint Tropics of the American Basketball Association (ABA). Jackie learns that the ABA is about to merge with the National Basketball Association, but only four teams will merge while the others (including the Tropics) will be dissolved. Inspired and belligerent, Jackie strikes a deal with the commissioner (David Koechner) to have the top four teams in the standings at the end of the season merge.
But now Jackie has a bigger problem: He has to get his team of losers to win some games. Each player fulfills a stereotype: Clarence “Coffee” Black (Andre Benjamin) is the egomaniac; Vakidis (Peter Cornell) is the big foreign guy who doesn’t speak English; Twiggy Munson (Josh Braaten) is the small white guy; Monix (Woody Harrelson) is the washed-up veteran with something to prove and a girl (Maura Tierney) to win back, and the list goes on. Even the team’s announcers are expectedly nerdy (Andrew Daly) and off-the-wall (Will Arnett).
Ferrell in a ‘70s-era comedy will remind many of Anchorman, which took place in the world of television news in 1970s San Diego, but a lot of the charm of that film came from the inanity surrounding male chauvinism in the newsroom. There’s no relevant real-life topic to satire (except bad hair cuts) in Semi-Pro, though, which leaves director Kent Alterman with a bunch of silly sketches and barely a trace of a story to hold things together.
But let’s be honest, the plot doesn’t matter here. The intention is to make us laugh, and there certainly are some funny bits – the brawl to War’s song “Why Can’t We Be Friends?” that ends just before a TV timeout is over is among the best – but only a few of the scenes are this inspired. Unfortunately, far too many go the way of vomiting, the guys recklessly playing with a supposedly unloaded gun or the idiocy of Jackie wrestling a bear. Unless the movie is Dumb and Dumber, truly stupid people doing stupid things are more pitiful than funny.
If writer Scot Armstrong and Alterman didn’t cling so tightly to the clichéd jokes inspired by Major League and numerous other sports comedies, they could’ve had something good here. But as they say in sports, “you can’t win ‘em all.”
SEMI-PRO (2 ½ )