Semi-Pro (2008) / Comedy
MPAA Rated: R for language, nudity and some sexual content
Running time: 91 min.
Cast: Will Ferrell, Woody Harrelson, Andre Benjamin, DeRay Davis, Maura Tierney, Andrew Daly, Will Arnett, Andy Richter, David Koechner, Rob Corddry, Matt Walsh, Jackie Earle Haley, Josh Braaten, Jay Philips, Peter Cornell, Pat Kilbane
Cameo: Patti LaBelle, Tim Meadows, Kristen Wiig
Director: Kent Alterman
Screenplay: Scot Armstrong
Review published June 6, 2008
Set in 1976, Semi-Pro follows the final season for the Flint Tropics, a floundering American Basketball Association team sure to get the axe when the National Basketball association is set to swallow them up. The ABA will live on in the form of four teams incorporated in the NBA, chosen for their market, venues and fan base, and the Tropics are surely dead last when it comes to all three. Will Ferrell (Blades of Glory, Stranger Than Fiction), who seems determined to appear in a sports parody every other film, stars as Jackie Moon, the owner, coach and star player of the Tropics. Moon knows no bounds when it comes to employing marketing gimmicks to draw the people in the stands necessary to show they have a viable team. Somehow he has also managed to convince the other ABA owners that the top four teams in the league based on record should get in. Easier said than done for this time without discipline, leadership or a game plan for success.
Woefully underdeveloped stuff that relies heavily on Will Ferrell to act just bizarre enough to scrape up some laughs in any form or fashion he can, Semi-Pro proceeds as if it has no script or plotline at all for much of the run time. The script, such as it is, is credited to Scot Armstrong (The Heartbreak Kid, School for Scoundrels), who has somehow managed to consistently make high profile comedies, and do it without exhibiting much of a penchant for humor, interesting ideas, or overall talent. Every one of his comedies is merely a set-up for veteran character comedians to use as a palette for continuous ad-libbing, which results in scattershot jokes that feel like the dregs relegated to deleted scenes in most finely-honed comedies. Even as I've been railing against Armstrong's films for being lazy, he's actually gotten lazier. The formula for Semi-Pro is lifted right out of his very own Old School, which was a lazy concept already, whereby a bunch of misfits must somehow come together and compete in a unified fashion to make something of themselves, usually utilizing the crassest, most juvenile means possible in the process.
Ferrell is on autopilot throughout, doling the same shtick he's practically trademarked. Most scenes that don't involve him getting injured, usually in the groin area, have him saying something stupid or vulgar without realizing how stupid or vulgar it is, or putting on a funny costume and/or making a weird face. He also wrestles an animal in this film (a bear -- this bear would be the one to make headlines mere months after the film's release for killing one of his handlers), which is now becoming a staple for Ferrell (he wrestled a bear before in Anchorman and a cougar in Talladega Nights). Why is any of this funny? If you never tire of Ferrell behaving like an emotionally constipated man-child, you're already sold on this film, so what I say is of little consequence.
I won't say that Semi-Pro is without laughs, but it is so unfunny most of the time, anytime I found something amusing I probably laughed more than I should have -- the result of keeping the anticipated laughter bottled up too long. In particular, Rob Corddry (Wedding Daze) plays the gleefully accepting cuckold husband who makes cheating on him most unpleasant, mostly because he is enjoying seeing the object of his affection, his girlfriend (Tierney, Welcome to Mooseport), get it on with the object of his obsession, former NBA player and champion, Ed Monix (Harrelson, No Country for Old Men). Yet, these scenes are superfluous to the main story, and largely conceived of as filler to pad the time out to the requisite 90-minute mark to qualify as a full-length feature. I would say about 80% of the film is either full of such needless scenes or just stretched out much longer than necessary.
I like the 1976 setting (though some anachronisms -- Randy Newman's "Short People" is from the following year), full of the requisite hedonistic music (Ferrell's 70s soul crooner parody "Love Me Sexy" is funny, at least on the first of the dozen times it is played during the movie, anyway), gaudy outfits and fluffy hairdos. The supporting cast is also full of pretty good comedy players that would suggest a winning comedy could have been made with just a little inspiration. Alas, like Moon's coaching style in the film, first-time director Alterman has no real game plan, and would rather give us side-show attractions like men dancing in tropical fish costumes and locker room strippers to keep us in our seats, as he knows that his team lacks the unity and vision to put on a winning effort on the court. And also like Moon, who stiffs a crowd their free corn dogs in one scene, all of the film's promotion gimmicks have no payoff. Semi-Pro should have been a slam dunk for Ferrell and his gang of rowdy idiots, instead of an moon-shot air ball too feeble to make it anywhere close to finding the rim.
©2008 Vince Leo