Movie Review: Semi-Pro
By Matthew Huntley
March 19, 2008

Hooray for March Madness!

Another year, another Will Ferrell sports comedy. For the past four consecutive years, the former SNL star has used a different arena of athleticism as a stage for irreverent humor. But these comedies haven't just made fun of soccer, auto racing and figure skating; they've shown affection towards them. It's part of Ferrell's charm that he appreciates what he ridicules. In Semi-Pro, he sets out to lampoon basketball, but he's forgotten one thing: the comedy.

The makers of Semi-Pro seem to think it's enough that Ferrell dresses up in different costumes, dances around like a moron and wrestles a bear. But the humor lacks an agenda. Ferrell's unorthodox behavior and self-mockery can be funny when they're working to make a point, but Semi-Pro doesn't know what it wants to say.

Ferrell plays Jackie Moon, the owner, coach and starter for the Flint Tropics, one of several teams facing dissolution from the American Basketball Association (ABA). If they can make it into the league's top four, they'll be able to merge with the NBA.

The best players on the team are Monix (Woody Harrelson) and Clarence "Coffee" Black (Andre Benjamin). Monix is actually an ex-member of the NBA, though he pretty much rode the bench his entire career. In fact, Jackie tells him he was traded to the Tropics for the team's washing machine.

Semi-Pro goes through all the usual motions of a Will Ferrell comedy. We get the obligatory nude shot; we listen to Ferrell perform a dirty love song; and we watch him yell, scream and hit people. This is all kind of funny, but we've seen it before. We've also seen the classic underdog sports story before. Shouldn't this be the kind of thing Ferrell makes fun of instead of pays heed to?

The Tropics are not a good team, but Monix teaches them the skills and discipline they need to [font="][/font]become winners. Next thing you know, they're winning every game and coasting their way up the standings. There's even the cliche during the big game where the team's victory boils down to the last two points.

Ferrell's other comedies like Talladega Nights and Blades of Glory had a consistency to their humor that Semi-Pro lacks. Sure, there are a few inspired moments, as when Jackie introduces his team's starting line-up and references their girlfriends' cup sizes; or when Jackie makes violent outbursts towards the referee: "I'm going to murder your wife and family!"; "I'll burn your house down!"

But these are too few and far between the long, drawn out scenes where you can hear the crickets chirping in the theater because you're not sure what the punch line is. What are we supposed to make, for example, of the scene when Jackie roller skates down a ramp over a line of cheerleaders and then accidentally lands on one? Both get up and are fine. What's the punch line?

Another awkward moment occurs when Monix and his ex-girlfriend Lynn (Maura Tierney) have sex on her couch. Her current boyfriend (Robert Corddry) walks in on them and starts masturbating. Is this supposed to be funny? Disturbing? I'm not sure. The scene just sort of plays out and ends. It seemed like the whole movie was slapped together haphazardly and the filmmakers didn't have a focus for the material. I think they figured it would sell itself.

Not too amusing, either, are pair of sportscasters played by Will Arnett and Andrew Daly. They're flat and dry compared to the more hilarious Gary Cole and Jason Bateman in Dodgeball, which this movie is no doubt trying to imitate.

I have a feeling this will be Ferrell's last sports comedy, at least for a while. My instinct tells me word-of-mouth for Semi-Pro won't be very positive and many will be left scratching their heads. It just doesn't display the usual confidence and harnessed energy we're used to seeing from Ferrell and company. If it did, I probably would have laughed more.