- Rated R
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All photos © New Line Cinema
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
uch like the stupid, redneck protagonist of “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby,” Will Ferrell’s latest sports comedy, “Semi-Pro,” revolves entirely around a paper-thin character that’s supposed to be funny based on looks alone. True, Ferrell does look pretty goofy donning an afro and a pair of Daisy Duke basketball shorts, but is that really enough to garner laughs? For some, maybe, but where “Semi-Pro” scores in concept, it fails in execution – ultimately relying too often on the charisma of its star to realize that most of the jokes just aren’t funny.
Ferrell stars as Jackie Moon, the voice behind the disco hit “Love Me Sexy” and the owner-coach-player of the ABA Flint Tropics basketball team. As the worst team in the league, Moon is clearly losing money on his investment, but when a rumor surfaces that the ABA is going to be dissolved (with the four most marketable teams heading to the NBA), Moon convinces the commissioner to amend the rule and allow the four best teams into the league instead. With a lot of ground to make up before the end of the season, Moon brings in some new blood with Monix (Woody Harrelson), a washed-up NBA champion who’s admired by all except Tropics superstar Coffee Black (Andre Benjamin). Despite their differences, the Tropics begin to play like a team and rally together for an 11th hour comeback that could make their NBA dreams come true.
For as hit-and-miss as the movie ends up being, it would have been an even bigger disaster had Will Ferrell not signed on for the lead role. As Jackie Moon, Ferrell is every bit over-the-top as you’d expect from a man who’s perfected that particular brand of comedy, and his contributions don’t end there, either. Though he hasn’t been given a writing credit, his thumbprints are all over the film. It’s nothing official, mind you, but there’s no way that writer Scot Thompson (the same man who penned such recent duds as “School for Scoundrels” and “The Heartbreak Kid”) is responsible for Ferrell’s finer moments. It has a lot to do with delivery, and if there’s anyone who can turn an unfunny mess into something giggle-worthy, it’s Ferrell.
Unfortunately, Ferrell’s the only positive to be taken from the film. The rest of the cast is constantly outshined (Harrelson and Benjamin are especially unimpressive in their roles), while a subplot involving Monix and a former flame (played by Maura Tierney) falls flat. Why first-time director Kent Alterman didn’t make better use of Harrelson’s previous basketball experience (“White Men Can’t Jump,” anyone?) is beyond me, but it was definitely an opportunity wasted. The movie as a whole feels like something Ben Stiller would usually headline, and though a cameo by Jackie Earle Haley and a last-minute joke involving the introduction of the alley-oop make for some hilarious moments, “Semi-Pro” is befittingly semi-enjoyable.
Let's Get Sweaty Edition DVD Review:
Unlike most comedies on DVD, the two-disc release of “Semi-Pro” actually delivers in the special features category. Everything from deleted/alternate scenes (Amy Sedaris’ cut cameo is a must-see) to featurettes on production design (“Re-Creating the ABA”) and location shooting (“Four Days in Flint”) appear, while the 24-minute “The Man Behind Semi-Pro” EPK is the most comprehensive of the bunch. Rounding out the extras is “A Short History of the ABA,” a behind-the-scenes look at the production of “Love Me Sexy” (“The Story Behind the One Hit Wonder”), and a quick bit about Bill Walton’s visit to the set. The lack of an audio commentary is disappointing, but New Line more than makes up for it with the inclusion of a theatrical and unrated cut (both on disc one), as well as a digital copy of the film.