March 2, 2008

Semi-Pro a No Go

Print More

Somewhere along the way in Will Ferrell’s latest sports parody flick, our protagonist confesses “I’m not making a whole lot of sense right now.” Unfortunately, this statement applies to the entire film, as Semi-Pro is a sloppy, jumbled mess of slapstick humor, half-hearted sentiments and tiresome one-liners.
Semi-Pro tells the story of Jackie Moon (Will Ferrell), a washed-up singer who leverages the profits from his once popular song “Love Me Sexy” to pursue his real dream: owning his own basketball team. The problem is that his ABA franchise, the Flint Michigan Tropics, is not only in last place, but is also at risk of folding due to the ABA’s merger with the NBA. In order for Jackie’s Tropics to survive, there is one thing they have to do — you guessed it, start winning.
The team’s supporting players — including Woody Harrelson as NBA has-been Monix, and former-OutKast member Andre Benjamin as outspoken Coffee Black — struggle to realize the desperate situation of the Tropics, and spend essentially the entire movie finding a way to bicker, disagree or berate each other with unfunny come-ons. By the time the team finally unifies and reaches their supposed “inspirational” climax, you are too exhausted — and frustrated — by the endless run of misfired one-liners to even care.
More frustrating about this film is that the actors and writers don’t seem to care either. The vast array of sketch comics that appear in this film, including Will Arnett, Andy Richter, Tim Meadows and Rob Corddry, never appear to try very hard, perhaps assuming that Ferrell would carry this film like he did in his brilliant Elf performance. Then again, these supporting characters are so under-developed in this film that the writers are equally to blame.
Set in 1976, Semi-Pro is undoubtedly a period film; in case you somehow missed that fact, the film reminds you relentlessly — about every two seconds in fact — with a seemingly endless barrage of afro-wearing, disco-dancing and jive-talking. It’s almost as if the film’s creators were so enamored with the time period that they figured they could just trade in a cohesive storyline for crude ’70s innuendo.
And here in lies the biggest problem I had with this film: it doesn’t know what type of movie it should be. Instead of sticking on its strengths — like allowing Will Ferrell to simply provide big, goofy laughs — Semi-Pro unsuccessfully tries its hand at multiple genres. It tries to be an inspirational sports movie, with a dramatic, slow-motion scene at the end for emphasis. It tries to be a crude adult comedy, with enough curses to raise even George Carlin’s eyebrows. It even tries to be a romantic comedy, as Harrelson’s character mushily fawns over a former lover. However, because of these tediously misguided efforts, the firm loses its main focus, parody, and with it, all the laughs.
This type of film is hardly unfamiliar ground for Ferrell; Semi-Pro is exactly the type of goofball vehicle we have come to expect from him since his glory days on Saturday Night Live. Yet, this whole man-boy shtick becomes exceedingly frustrating here, and is reflected in Ferrell’s performance.
In his most recent sports parodies, namely Talladega Nights and Blades of Glory, Ferrell assuredly delivered uproarious laughs and on-point satire. Here, he — like the movie — is unfocused, and is left to annoyingly (and, again, repeatedly) plea to the audience, “Who wants to love me sexy?” Certainly not me.