Starring: Will Ferrell, Woody Harrelson, Andre Benjamin
Director: Kent Alterman
Release Date: February 29, 2008
Running time: 85min
MPAA Rating: R
Distributors: New Line Cinema
Certain things in life we have been conditioned to just take for granted. For example, I know that every October I go on a camping trip into the middle of nowhere, every weekend I see at least one new movie in the theatre, and Will Ferrell is one of the most consistent comedic actors working today. This is why the following statement physically pains me to type:
Will Ferrell’s act is growing stale.
I guess it was bound to happen sooner or later and I should have seen this coming, I just wasn’t ready to see it happen already.
Semi-Pro is the story of Jackie Moon (Will Ferrell), a singer whose one hit single “Love Me Sexy” made him rich. He then used the profits to buy an ABA basketball team, the Flint Michigan Tropics. They happen to be the worst team in the league. This may have something to do with the fact that Jackie is the owner, coach, promotional manager, and star player. He may not be a very good player, but he’s a star nonetheless. In 1976, just before the ABA collapses, the NBA agrees to merge the four best teams in the ABA into their league. Jackie trades the team washing machine for former Boston Celtic benchwarmer Ed Monix (Woody Harrelson) to make a run at 4th place and a spot in the NBA. Think: a dumbed down basketball version of Slap Shot and you’ll get close.
The good news and the bad news is that the movie is just okay. There were laughs, even a few out loud moments, but they were too few and far between to sustain the whole movie. This is only sadder when you consider the movie is only 85 minutes long. Do not expect anything more than a few hours killed on a Saturday afternoon. It follows every sports, comedy, and movie cliché in the book
Looking back on his previous films, you realize Ferrell works best when given a good script to do so, provided he is allowed the freedom to ad-lib within that structure. The trouble with Semi-Pro is that there seems to be no script. It felt like they had a basic idea and told the actors to just wing it once the director yelled “action!”. The potential for catching lightening in a bottle is there when you allow for ad-libbing, but you have to have a starting point. This concept may work on Curb Your Enthusiasm, but it didn’t work so well here.
It also strikes me as odd some of the career choices Woody Harrelson makes. His dramatic acting aside, his choices for comedic roles are all over the place. But I can summarize in one sentence; this is better than Play It to the Bone but nowhere near as good as Kingpin. Hell, it may only be marginally better than White Men Can’t Jump. Yeah, that doesn’t really narrow the gap, does it? Ok, maybe it took more than one sentence… But suffice it to say even the funny parts of Semi-Pro weren’t because of Woody.
I haven’t completely given up on Will Ferrell movies (Step Brothers actually looks pretty funny) but I think it might be time he foray into new territory like he did in Stranger Than Fiction; give him a chance to grow a little bit. At the very least, he can always come back and churn out roles like the ones that made him famous if it doesn’t work out. It seemed to work for Jim Carrey. Oh wait…
And there’s the rub.
** out of ****