Director: Kent Alterman
Notable Cast: Will Ferrell, Woody Harrelson, André Benjamin, Maura Tierney, Andrew Daly, Will Arnett, Andy Richter, David Koechner, Rob Corddry, Matt Walsh, Jackie Earle Haley, DeRay Davis, Josh Braaten, Jay Phillips, Peter Cornell
There’s something about being a professional athlete that is fascinating on a number of levels. There’s a reason why any town that isn’t L.A or New York abjectly worships professional athletes as the sort of movie stars a town lacks. Someone like Paul Shirley gains notoriety by existing on the fringes of professional basketball and gains a sizeable audience writing about it because the ability to be a professional athlete on any level is so incredibly difficult to do. So its not shocking that Hollywood would be fascinated with the subject either; one could imagine that 90% of the reason why sports movies are so prevalent is because even actors fantasize what it would be like to play in the NBA, NFL, NHL, Major League Soccer or any number of professional sporting leagues. Will Ferrell has had an opportunity to be in a number of sports films, from NASCAR (Talladega Nights) to ice hockey (Blades of Glory), and his quest into comedic shenanigans has a latest conquest: Semi-Pro, a riff back into time with the ABA in the late 1970s.
Ferrell stars as Jackie Moon, owner/player/coach of the Flint Tropics. The ABA is on the verge of being merged with the NBA, and the Tropics are the ABA’s worst franchise. With only four teams making the leap to the NBA, the Tropics are on the verge of being eliminated forever. With a washed up NBA star (Woody Harrelson), a self-absorbed star player (Andre Benjamin) and an assorted cast of characters, Moon has to lead his team out of the gutters. It’s the usual sort of underdog story, except this is a Will Ferrell movie. So of course it’s a complete and total farce, complete with a priest who doubles as a ref (Matt Walsh). And, per the release date, this is going to be Ferrell’s token comedy to begin the year off until his big summer blockbuster Step Brothers.
Presented as a comedy, complete with the sort of blue humor Ferrell is known for, the film is in the second tier of comedies done by the biggest drawing comedian. It’s not in Anchorman territory, or even as good as Blades of Glory was last year. It’s a solid comedy, complete with plenty of good laughs, but unfortunately it’s not the sort of superior comedy it could be. It begins with the humor, which hits about 1/2 of the time. For every joke that works effectively, there are plenty that fail to work. Ferrell is definitely trying to work his best, getting into the sort of low IQ doofus role that has maintained his resume, but the material isn’t consistently good enough that Ferrell’s shtick can’t keep it consistently good. All of his top tier comedies are known for their ability to inspire repeated use of their signature lines. It’s what makes Anchorman a consistently funny comedy; you can quote it endlessly. There’s not a lot of repeatable lines in Semi-Pro, unfortunately, though the moments that work are golden.
The film also has a serious subplot involving Monix and his ex-girlfriend (Maura Tierney) that takes away from the film’s comedic moments. It seems as if it was added on at the last moment to appeal to a broader segment; the film goes from being a total farce to having a dramatic undertone that doesn’t fit the overall theme. It takes away a lot of the vibe and comedic presence established early on.
Semi-Pro will most likely be another throwaway comedy on the resume of Will Ferrell in the same way that Kicking and Screaming is. It’s a solid comedy that could be much more but ultimately fails to break that barrier.
FINAL RATING (ON A SCALE OF 1-5 BUCKETS):