SEMI-PRO – Completely Amateurish

SEMI-PRO (Dir. Kent Alterman, 2008)

Does the Will Ferrell sports comedy genre (epitomized in TALLADEGA NIGHTS, KICKING AND SCREAMING, and BLADES OF GLORY) have a future? Does it deserve one? Well judging by this recent entry – no. Will Ferrell is undoubtedly one of the biggest comic actors right now – just a week ago he came to my area and performed to a sold-out crowd at a local basketball arena (The Dean Smith Center in Chapel Hill, NC). I doubt sold-out crowds will show for this because even hardcore Ferrell fans will have a hard time finding SEMI-PRO anything but only fitfully funny. And it’s more fitful than funny.

It’s set in Flint, Michigan in 1976 – why? Because everyone knows the 70’s are funny with their wacky hairstyles and kooky clothing while Flint, an economically troubled crumbling city as Michael Moore has often illustrated, I guess the filmmakers figured also has comic possibilities. We meet yet another full-of-himself Ferrell character – Jackie Moon – a one-hit wonder (with the creepy single “Love Me Sexy” that opens the movie) now turned owner/coach/player of the the American Basketball Association’s Flint Michigan Tropics. His team, of course, is a gaggle of underdog losers who may have to fold because of a merger of the ABA with the NBA. Ferrell makes a deal that if the Tropics finish in the top 4 at the end of the season they can make the move to the NBA. He recruits Woody Harrelson (squandering all the cred he just gained with his measured performance in NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN) as a former NBA player, and he ups the promotional ante with gimmicks like corn dog night, clown makeup night, and even gets in the ring with a live bear named Dewey one night to put bums in the seats. So far so bad…

It’s all supposed to be in the realm of “outrageous comedy” but very little amuses here. Co-star André Benjamin (also known as André 3000 of the band Outkast) makes the same mistake Harrelson does – they both act like they’re playing real people when they should of cozied up to the cartoon trappings like Ferrell knows to do. The rest of the cast is capable – former Conan co-hort Andy Richter is always likable but given little to do, Maura Tierney (Newsradio, E.R.) plays another thankless girlfriend part, and SNL‘s Kirsten Wiig (as the bear handler) along with Arrested Development‘s Will Arnett try in vain to get some laugh action. An odd appearance by Jackie Earle Haley, (no stranger to sports comedies with BAD NEWS BEARS back in the day) as a zoned-out hippie who Ferrell screws over because he can’t afford to pay him $10,000 Haley won at one of his promo nights, suggests a profound sense of laziness in the screen-writing process but that’s evident everywhere. Especially in the tired jabs at lame 70’s targets like Pong, Shasta, and Fondue sets that seem like rejects from ANCHORMAN. You can’t have Will Ferrell and this cast and not have some laughs – a poker table Russian Roulette scene has its moments and there are scattered lines that may elicit chuckles but this is a wasted enterprise overall. SEMI-PRO is the worst Will Ferrell film I’ve ever seen (and yes that includes BEWITCHED) but I’m hoping it offers some hope that the powers that be recognize it as such and scrap all future Ferrell sports projects. Yeah, as if.

More later…

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