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March 2008
SEMI-PRO

By Kam Williams

SEMI-PRO


Distributor: New Line Cinema
Director: Kent Alterman
Screenwriter: Scot Armstrong
Starring: Will Ferrell, Woody Harrelson, Andre Benjamin, Maura Tierney, Will Arnett, Andy Richter, Rob Corddry, DeRay Davis, Josh Braaten, Jay Phillips, Jackie Earle Haley

 

   

 

Will Ferrell Takes to the Basketball Court in Latest Sports Spoof

How many silly sports movies can Will Ferrell churn out before his legions of rabid fans get fed up and tell him he’s finally milked the genre dry? In 2005, he portrayed a rabid soccer dad in Kicking and Screaming. The next year, he was an irreverent race car driver in Talladega Nights. And by 2007 he was back as a flamboyant figure skater entering doubles competitions with another man as his partner.

Now, in Semi-Pro, a retro comedy set in 1976, Ferrell brings his bawdy brand of tomfoolery to the world of basketball. As Jackie Moon, he’s playing a one-hit wonder-turned-player-coach and owner of the Flint Tropics who has purchased the fledgling ABA franchise with money from his only Top 40 single, “Love Me Sexy.”

At the point of departure, the cellar-dwelling team looks like a horrible investment, given that attendance is down due to the economic recession which has hit the State of Michigan. So, the ever-enterprising Jackie resorts to desperate measures to get more fannies in the seats. But even these promotions tend to backfire, like when a hippie (Jackie Earle Haley) miraculously sinks a full court shot for $10,000 during a halftime contest, despite being high as a kite at the time.

A ray of hope arrives when the ABA Commissioner (David Koechner) announces an impending merger with the NBA. The catch is that only the four best teams will be included in the deal, and the rest of the struggling clubs will simply be dissolved. So, what passes for tension in Semi-Pro revolves around whether the prospect of playing in the NBA will inspire the Tropics to overachieve and finish in fourth place by the end of the season.

The film also features a couple of slightly amusing subplots, one, a love triangle involving an ex-girlfriend (Maura Tierney) Jackie is trying to win back, the other, the salty, off-air badinage between the team’s play-by-play announcers (Will Arnett and Andrew Daly). However, neither of these sidebars is designed to advance the front story in the least, as this is, above all, an infantile Will Ferrell vehicle.

True to the Ferrell formula, going for the joke trumps character development at every turn, with much of the trademark humor coming courtesy of nonsensical sight gags, slapstick and non-sequiturs, and at the expense of such Seventies-era fashion statements as cotton-candy afros, garish color schemes and loathsome leisure suits. Each Tropics team member is patterned after a familiar caricature, whether that be the trash-talking showboat (Andrew Benjamin), the aging veteran with just enough gas left in the tank to take one last shot at the brass ring (Woody Harrelson) or the gangly, Eastern European import (Peter Cornell).

Kent Alterman makes a decent directorial debut here, though he needlessly packed the screen with a coterie of underused comedians (Tim Meadows, DeRay Davis, Charlyne Yi, Rob Corddry and Andy Richter) plus pop diva Patti LaBelle. Not much is asked of them except for wide-eyed reaction shots to Moon’s manic misbehavior. See Jackie urinate on himself in a dumpster! Watch him wrestle a bear! Or shoot a guy while playing Russian roulette! Or almost successfully execute a jump on rollerblades over a long row of cheerleaders lying on the court! Ouch!

Another goofy spoof strictly for the Ferrell faithful who ostensibly never tire of such bottom-feeding fare.