0 stars (out of 5)
R. Kurt Osenlund
In my recent review for the upcoming British heist flick The Bank Job, I began by observing the foreseeable decline of lead star Jason Statham’s formerly budding career. This critique will start off in a similar fashion, though the circumstances are far more tragic. At present, Will Ferrell’s fall from comedic grace may be one of the saddest stories in Hollywood. The "SNL" alum’s crossover to celluloid once seemed like manna from heaven for funny films, but has lately become a recipe for disaster. Ferrell’s insistence on reducing himself to witless, formulaic schlock is quickly transforming him from a comedy king into a shameless sell-out. His latest, Semi-Pro, is the first movie I’ve walked out of in years.
It tells the story of Jackie Moon (Ferrell, of course), who could basically be described as Ron Burgundy or Ricky Bobby with bigger hair and a flared collar. He’s a ‘70’s pop crooner who happens to own the Flint Michigan Tropics, a team in the long-since defunct American Basketball Association. Moon is not only the team’s owner, but also its promoter, head coach and star forward. His pre-game rituals consist of insulting his fellow teammates, blatantly praising himself, and telling one bad joke after the other. His mid-game antics include stopping to harass spectators with food not purchased within his stadium, drop-kicking balls into the stands, and bickering with the referee, who moonlights as a priest. When word gets around that the NBA will snatch up four teams from the ABA before it disappears forever, Moon finally tries to get smart about the game so his Tropics can make the final cut. Too bad the movie doesn’t follow suit, for what I saw of it lacked even a single clever moment.
As Moon, Ferrell once again exhausts his overly-expressive schtick, which he and the writers and directors who create these pointless roles for him (in this case, it’s Starsky & Hutch and The Heartbreak Kid’s Scot Armstrong and first-timer Kent Alterman, respectively) seem to think is hilarious no matter what is being said. The scripts for these movies lack originality and imagination, and like the loud kid in the classroom who’s begging for attention, the most embarrassing sight to see is how hard Ferrell tries to sell the poor material. Undoubtedly, Ferrell’s best movies are those with more reputable talent behind the camera (see: Marc Forster’s Stranger Than Fiction, Jon Favreau’s Elf, and even the Armstrong-penned Old School, which came out pre-Ferrell mania), but those titles are few and far between. Instead, he tends to choose projects like this one, which usually have him spinning through scenes like an idiot, the only joke emerging being the one on the audience.
Trapped in this same intelligence-free environment with Ferrell are Woody Harrelson as a former Celtics benchwarmer with nothing to lose, Maura Tierney as Harrelson’s character’s old flame, Andre Benjamin as the Tropics’ soulful complainer, and Will Arnett as a hard-drinking announcer. All of them are better than Ferrell in their roles, but none of them can save Semi-Pro from being anything but flat-out terrible. It’s meaningless, un-funny, and unnecessary. I’m not sure exactly for whom it was created. It wasn’t made for Ferrell fans, because I am one of those (or was), and it certainly wasn’t made for me. I’d say it was made for sports fans, but even that is a stretch, since the players are more often engaged in Jackie’s nonsensical theatrics than shooting hoops. The only people it seems to cater to are Ferrell and the studio exec.’s who know he can sell out a theater.
If the movie has aimed for any historical accuracy at all, then I’d imagine that it ended with Moon and his team going down in a blaze of glory, since no basketball team called the Tropics has ever crossed over into the big leagues. However, I can’t say for sure because I left the theater after the first hour, which culminated in Jackie vomiting on Harrelson’s character following a rigorous training session. It was an oddly appropriate note on which to exit, since Semi-Pro feels like a regurgitated meal that wasn’t any good to begin with.