Will Ferrell extends his speciality of staring in sport-related comedies with Semi-Pro. After Nascar racing, ice skating and football, the Anchorman star plays one-hit-wonder 1970s singer Jackie Moon who buys American Basketball Association’s Flint Michigan Tropics. Despite limited on-court and coaching skills, he is more interested in promotional zest than results. But when the National Basketball Association (NBA) plans to merge with the four best teams of the ABA, Moon gives a rousing war cry in an attempt to elevate his team from last to fourth and attract the large home crowd his singing and half-time cash prize stunts have so far failed to achieve. Yes, the old underdog story comes to the fore with few three point surprises, but enough two-point laughs to finish mid-table in the sports comedy league.
Ever since Old School and Anchorman, Ferrell has never been short of work for the loud and stupidly strong-headed characters he tends to play in out-and-out gag-fests like Semi-Pro. The problem is, Ron Burgundy remains his most effective character because the rest merely re-use elements with less impact. Jackie Moon is typically kind-hearted and well-meaning, but goofs around and gets loud when he’s angry to utilise Ferrell’s fast-becoming overused comic traits.
As Moon, he sells the team’s washing machine to buy NBA benchwarmer winner Monix (Harrelson), finds a way to get his star player Clarence “Coffee” Black (Benjamin) to perform and adds crowd-pleasing stunts such as wrestling a bear in a bid to realise his dream of owning a professional basketball team. In the meantime, Monix reveals he only signed for the dead-end team to woo his ex-girlfriend from his number one fan in a horribly unfunny sub plot.
There’s nothing inspiring about Semi-Pro, not helped by the constant stream of recent sporting comedies including Balls of Fury, Dodgeball, The Longest Yard and Ferrell’s own efforts mining the genre for all the best jokes. Semi-Pro has plot points held together by a few random male camaraderie scenes off court. There is also very little evidence for it being set in the 1970s as no cultural references are exploited beyond a funky soundtrack and a lazy parody of the era when needs must. Even Moon’s signature song “Love Me Sexy” grows tiring after its fourth airing.
At least Semi-Pro doesn’t commit too many on-screen fouls. The basketball scenes flow nicely with the necessary slow motion and rousing music in all the right places. Away from the basketball action, the locker room bickering, Moon’s whacky stunts and Ferrell’s behaviour pass the time. What there isn’t is any truly memorable moments that might stay in your consciousness more than 10 minutes after walking out of the cinema – Moon’s wrestling of a bear for the crowd’s entertainment may sound brilliant on paper, yet it doesn’t quite pack the punch it should have.
This is surprising given writer Scot Armstrong’s normally reliable scripts which made Old School, Road Trip and Starsky & Hutch so enjoyable. Blades of Glory and Talladega Nights had support from crowd-pleasing stars Jon Heder and Sacha Baron Cohen to keep the laughs coming. Semi-Pro’s Harrelson is given a far too serious role, Benjamin is a bland underachiever and Jackie Earle Haley is completely wasted in his cameo role. This is a major flaw as Ferrell has been at his most impressive when surrounded by strong support who can play off him to produce improvised genius; perhaps producer-turned-debut-director Alterman lacked the guts to let them all explore their characters freely away from the script which may have enabled them to build a camaraderie with potential for spontaneity . As it stands, Semi-Pro shoots a few points for Ferrell fans and just about makes it to the end of play without anyone breaking into a sweat.
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