Review By: Staff
Genres come and go in waves and so do the people within them. For comedy, the period of 2003 to 2005 was indisputably in the hands of Will Ferrell. From Old School to Wedding Crashers, few actors have reached more of an iconic role in the kingdom of laughter. Since then, comedies like Knocked Up and Superbad have introduced a different crowd of talents and, while Ferrell vehicles are still being made, signs of a decline in the success of his films appears inevitable. Upon its initial release, Semi-Pro opened with half the box office returns of Ferrell's previous films. What can be deduced from all this?
People know when the well is starting to dry. They like familiarity, the comfort of similarity as long as the machine is as good as the sum of its parts. But when things appear too familiar, the wheels start to come off.
Like most of his more recent films, Ferrell takes on the lead role of a sports hero. His name is Jackie Moon, owner and leader of the American Basketball Association's Flint Michigan Tropics with quite a problem on his hands. Four ABA teams are going to merge with the NBA next season and the Tropics are in danger of not being considered with other elite teams like the Spurs and the Lakers. Moon is outraged and demands the decision not be made based on fan attendance (the few people the Tropics draw to the stands seem more interested halftime shows and nachos than the actual game) but on overall record instead. The league agrees, but later claims that in order to qualify for the NBA, each team must draw at least 2,000 fans. Based on these two details, Semi-Pro's plot largely revolves on the two goals of winning basketball games and developing gimmicks to increase ticket sales.
The setup is simple and seems amiable enough to provide a good skeleton for a formula comedy, yet Semi-Pro is the most inconsistent film in Will Ferrell's filmography. One of the major problems he faces is the lack of a good supporting cast and more importantly, a strong partner in comedic crime. Much of the charm of 2005's Wedding Crashers lies in the tandem between Ferrell and Vince Vaughn playing off of each other. In Talladega Nights, he is aided by the services of veterans John C. Reilly and Sacha Baron Cohen to draw laughs. Even in Blades of Glory, he had Napoleon Dynamite on the ice with him to help carry the load. Much to the detriment of this
This lack of a good, balanced team of support brings focus to another problem facing Semi-Pro: the lack of a good game plan. With an awkwardly assembled list of actors, the brains behind the operation seem conflicted about what kind of sports comedy they wanted to make. The movie functions like a Slap Shot remake with a heavy dose of earnest sports parody. Scenes of clear tongue-in-cheek aim are edited together with moments that appear like inexplicably honest attempts at real drama. A subplot involving the romantic relationship between Woody Harrelson and Maura Tierney is painfully misguided and misplaced in a film of this kind. Justifiably, the folks going to see this movie are more likely to be wondering when the next joke is going to come. In a movie with such minimal aims, do we even need a subplot? What does the audience gain from it?
Alas, the movie is not without some finer moments. Any film with Will Ferrell in the driver's seat is bound to please his core audience and I suspect even those who are not die-hard fans will still find a few things to chuckle at. One of Semi-Pro's most lively scenes occurs over a game of cards and involves a funny prop gag with a supposedly unloaded gun as well as the unfortunate use of the phrase "Jive Turkey"Â. The atmosphere feels less controlled by the limitations of script and formula and offers the simple reality that funny people are best when free to go for a laugh. Equally comical is the clever introduction of the alley-oop as an unstoppable, unfathomable go-to play during the film's final Big Game and the subsequent shock and disbelief of the opposing team when it happens ("Come on ref, he was floating!"Â). While most of Semi-Pro seems to target Ferrell's more typical comic style, the biggest laughs come from outside that realm.
When Christopher Walken asked Will Ferrell for more cowbell in the now infamous SNL skit, the result was one of Ferrell's most successful moments as a comic. Why did this scene achieve such hilarity? Christopher Walken was there to help deliver the punch and the song by Blue Oyster Cult was there to carry the bell's tune. As Ferrell's career progresses and the structures of his comedies do not, his films feel less exciting and more like the same old bag of tricks. Semi-Pro may be the
Movie Grade: C "”
DVD Features Grade: N/A (No Special Features)
Overall Grade: C-