Directed by: Kent Alterman
Starring: Will Ferrell, Woody Harrelson, André Benjamin, Maura Tierney, Will Arnett
Before I watched the latest Will Ferrell vehicle, Semi-Pro, I toyed with the idea of just recycling bits and pieces from Ken Hanke’s review of Talladega Nights (2006) and my review of Blades of Glory (2007). My logic was that if Will Ferrell is allowed to make the same unfunny, forcibly random sports-based comedy over and over, what reason do I have for writing an original review? Then I remembered journalistic integrity and scrapped that idea.
Luckily, Semi-Pro isn’t exactly like all those other Ferrell comedies dating back to Anchorman (2004). Yes, it’s full of seemingly ad-libbed humor with no point or punch line, with the idea that simple inane irreverence makes for hilarity, but with the added bonus of being set in the ‘70s this time (since we all know that afros and ‘70s kitsch are automatic laughs). The movie lacks any sort of build up or payoff (take a look at Joseph McGrath’s The Magic Christian (1969) on how to do this properly), and instead we are offered gags that never go anywhere, like a bit about wrestling a bear, which is shown almost in its entirety in the trailer. It’s setup to no real end, just a half-baked running joke.
But what sets Semi-Pro apart—slightly—from other Ferrell comedies is that it almost resembles an actual movie, which is done by including such foreign concepts as plot and characterization. What’s odd about the movie is that, for a comedy, there’s really nothing satirical about it at all, and instead resembles your basic, run-of-the-mill sports flick. Ferrell plays Jackie Moon, a buffoon and former pop star who bought his own ABA franchise, the Flint Tropics, and immediately ran it into the ground. But after finding out his team can merge into the NBA if he gets his team to start winning, he starts taking it more seriously. It’s pretty easy to see where the film will go from here, with the Tropics learning to play like a team and so on. Ultimately, all of this is the framework for the movie, with the usual Ferrell-ian antics grafted on.
The movie’s not really even about Moon, but instead is about depicting Ed Monix (Woody Harrelson), an aging veteran out for one last shot at glory, and—to a slightly lesser extent—the showboating Clarence “Coffee” Black (André Benjamin, Idlewild). Aside from neither actor being John Heder (a plus right there), both Harrelson (simply by playing it straight and never mugging for a laugh) and Benjamin (through sheer force of charisma) manage to be pretty compelling. It’s just too bad that Ferrell’s also in the movie, doing his usual worn-out, ham-fisted shtick.
This isn’t to say that Harrelson and Benjamin make the movie anything close to worthwhile. Instead, the best one might be able to say is that they manage to make it somewhat painless. There isn’t an actor alive that could pull this movie out of mediocrity, which makes the duo’s inclusion in it all the more disappointing and that much more a waste of talent. Moviegoers should make sure their money isn’t wasted on it, too. Rated R for language and some sexual content.