I feel I’ve seen this movie several times already. Come to think of it, my reviews of Blades of Glory and Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby literally capture the same highs and lows as I saw in Semi-Pro. The only differences are a slight adjustment to the cast of supporting actors and the sport being lampooned.
Oh yeah, another sad difference was that I managed a good laugh now and again in those other Will Ferrell films. The most I am willing to confess to for Semi-Pro is a crooked smile. It’s hard to imagine but the Super Bowl ads for this movie are funnier than the movie itself. Actually they’re much funnier. Even harder to grasp is why Will Ferrell continues to waste his comedic talents on reenacting the same buffoonish character. Surely money isn’t an issue . . .
This time he goes out on a limb (said with sarcasm) and becomes Jackie Moon, the afro-sporting basketball player/coach/owner of the ailing American Basketball Association Flint Tropics. The team is atrocious. Only one player, Clarence ‘Coffee’ Black (André Benjamin), has any talent — the rest are just a cast of miscreants without any conceivable abilities — so it’s no wonder they wallow at the very bottom of the league standings. Moon is more than happy with the situation though, as he is self-consumed and admittedly promotes himself as a star at the expense of the team (he doesn’t have the team practice set plays, they practice half-time choreography). All that changes in the blink of an eye though, when it is announced that the top four teams of the dying league will be absorbed into the NBA, with the rest going the way of the dinosaurs. And so starts the underdog storyline. Determined to not be left out of the dance, Moon trades for Monix (Woody Harrelson), a has-been with NBA experience, in hopes that he can infuse some semblance of legitimacy to the team. He does, but so what, I clocked out long before to care.
The reason for not caring? This kind of film makes for very lazy writing, directing and acting. Having Ferrell in a movie that is now his bread and butter is both a blessing and a curse (although I now believe it is more of a curse). Writer Scot Armstrong, who has worked with Ferrell before in Old School, really dropped the ball after coming up with what looks like a funny premise. He seemed inclined to write really basic stuff – cheerleader jump on rollerskates and bear wresting at halftime – in hopes that Ferrell would be able to dress the pig up and get laughs from it. Same goes for first time director Kent Alterman. He provides very little direction and appears content to let his lead ape at will for the camera. Woody Harrelson can be applauded for trying to make something of his role, but even he seemed willing to take the back seat and go for a ride (there wasn’t much for him to work with anyways). It’s also the reason New Line Cinema bankrolled the project. Even without a great script or direction, they knew Semi-Pro would be a money maker with Ferrell signed on. Like I said a blessing and curse; all dependant on your point of view.
So what I honestly think could have been a good movie turned out to be very ho-hum. I got the feeling looking at the down-trodden faces of everyone on the Tropics that they weren’t unhappy with the lousy team, it was because they knew Semi-Pro should have been a great deal funnier. And while I don’t think the bottom has completely fallen out on these movie types (it will be the number one at the box office the weekend it is released), I feel comfortable saying that it is damn near ready to.