'Semi-Pro' is no 'Major League'

Reeling It In

Posted: Thursday, March 06, 2008


  "Semi-Pro" New Line Cinema 1 hour, 30 minutes Frank Masi


New Line Cinema

1 hour, 30 minutes

Frank Masi

Will Ferrell has carved out a pretty comfortable niche for himself playing loveable buffoons at the top of their game, whatever that game may be, from news anchor to ice skater. I'm sure it seemed like a perfect fit when the idea came along for him to play Jackie Moon, owner, coach and power forward for the Flint Michigan Tropics. After all, loveable basketball buffoon is obviously next in line.

But the filmmakers got greedy. Looking at the success of mainstream sports films and the wild popularity of raunchy R-rated comedies like "Superbad," the powers that be assumed they could achieve a trifecta. Unfortunately, "Semi-Pro" plays like three separate, unrelated movies and, as a result, stumbles up and down the court.

The film opens with an afro'ed Ferrell crooning his former No. 1 hit song, "Love Me Sexy," to a decidedly underwhelming crowd at a home game for his ABA franchise team. This is actually pretty funny, but it's obvious that we are being set up for the same old sports movie saw, the underdog team that has to fight from behind to save its very existence. Thanks, but we've seen it.

Then again, if this is a simple, sweet, slightly risqu Will Ferrell comedy, so what? There doesn't need to be a clever plot if it's all character jokes. Right? Too bad things don't stay sweet for long as the writers pepper the script with decidedly off-color and four-letter dialogue and jokes that are, while occasionally amusing, mostly awkward and forced.

The word has come down from on high that the future is bleak for the ABA and for the Tropics in particular. It seems that the NBA is planning to absorb the smaller league, and only four teams are moving on to the big time.

Needless to say, the last place Tropics are not among the chosen. It's up to Jackie to not only convince the commission to reconsider and give his team a chance to shine, but to use his considerable promoting prowess to fill the stands with excited fans.

This is the movie you want to see Will Ferrell doing a dance number dressed as a giant sun; Will Ferrell on roller skates leaping over cheerleaders; Will Ferrell wrestling a bear. This is all very funny stuff, and Ferrell's comic timing is right on. Too bad that the movie also stars Woody Harrelson.

Typically I like Harrelson, even though his characters are usually grating or oafish. Here he plays Monix, the only Tropics player to have ever played in the big league, though primarily as a bench warmer. Recently traded to the Tropics for a washing machine, his job is to bring new life to the team by teaching fundamentals and respect. Think Kevin Costner in "Bull Durham," or Tom Berenger in "Major League."

Harrelson is not funny at all, nor is he trying to be. He's there to be the serious side of things to make "Semi-Pro" into something it should never have tried to be: a straight sports movie. As a result, every time Monix is onscreen, the energy in the film drops to zero. You can almost hear the grinding down as they put the brakes on the funny. This serious side of the film begins to feel like a chore you have to work through in order to get to the good stuff; like eating all your vegetables before you can get dessert.

Also starring is Andr Benjamin (or as he used to be known, Andr 3000) as the one true talent on the team who actually has a shot to play in the NBA. He is actually allowed to be funny occasionally, and in those scenes I thought he did well, but most of the time his role is similar to that of Harrelson's to give true heart and substance to a film that has no use for it. In supporting roles are myriad comedic actors, most of whose talents are wasted with pointlessly raunchy and decidedly forced dialogue. I'm not opposed, necessarily, to the R-rated sex comedy. "40-Year-Old Virgin" was great, and even "Superbad" had some good stuff about it. But you have to set out to make that movie, not just try to wedge it in where it has no place. This was a major misstep by the filmmakers.

I might have actually enjoyed a "Bull Durham"-style dramedy about the American Basketball League. It seems like there could be some good stuff there, but it was a mistake to try to make that movie out of "Semi-Pro."

This should have either been a wacky Will Ferrell comedy or not. This hybrid concoction does nothing but give us a taste of two stories we might have enjoyed had either been allowed to shine.

Grade: C-

"Semi-Pro" is rated R for raunchy dialogue, language, crude humor, and mild violence.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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