Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Ferrell's Umpteenth Sports Flick Clanks The Rim


In Will Ferrell’s quest to blanket the history of film with comedies on every single sport known to man, comes an afroed former disco singer with a basketball team.

“Semi-Pro”, Ferrell’s latest ode to sports buffoonery is far from some of the great comedies of the past few years because it lacks a clever premise for the jokes to percolate and, of course, anything funny.

The sad sack Flint Tropics of the American Basketball Association need to finish fourth to be part of the coming merger with the National Basketball Association. Ferrell’s Jackie Moon is owner/marketer/power forward for the Tropics by way of a bouncy disco tune “Love Me Sexy” that proves to be his best performance of the movie.

The problem with “Semi-Pro” is director Kent Alterman doesn’t seem to know what kind of movie he wanted to make--a slapstick comedy or a romantic comedy.

Most of the confusion is the pairing of Ferrell and the grizzled vet Ed Monix played by Woody Harrelson. Is this movie about Moon’s Tropics or Monix returning to Flint to reunite with his old girlfriend played by Maura Tierney? Three-fourths through the film yet another plotline emerges with the team’s underachieving star fulfilling his dream of playing in the NBA.

This confusion of a leading man runs against what a paying customer would expect from absorbing a major marketing campaign that started on Super Bowl Sunday and included cross-promotions with Bud Light and Gillette.

This comedy is about Will Ferrell’s character as much as the 90’s sitcom “Family Matters” was about Steve Urkel. Sadly, Ferrell is just a constant distraction from the lack of any discernible focus.

Like a cross-court pass that is telegraphed and stolen by a quicker defender, many of “Semi-Pro’s” featured bits have punch lines that are anticipated a mile away.

When the team meets for a game of poker at Moon’s house, a misspoken “Jive Turkey!” forces the color analyst to brandish a pistol. The weapon turns out to be unloaded, so they think. The characters each grab the gun and perform their own improvisations, including Moon hilariously feigning, “I shot myself in the wiener.” From the first improv, it’s clear that someone is going to be accidentally shot.

There are some shining performances in Semi-Pro, though. Benjamin, who plays the cocky, but talented hoopster, who goes by many names, including Coffee Black, in an obvious nod to the late 70’s star World B. Free, actually looks like he can act.

Andrew Daly plays the straight-laced Tropics play-by-play announcer Dick Pepperfield to the highest laughs in the film. His by-the-book description of the first alley-oop in basketball history is a great movie quote in the making.

Sadly, “Semi-Pro” is a movie reminiscent of recent comedies like "Superbad" and “The Brothers Solomon” that isn’t based on a funny script, but comedians leaning on the film’s “R” rating to allow them to say pour out explicative for the sake of shocking the audience.

You can go to any bar or stand on any corner and hear a mildly funny person stringing together a litany of curse words and get a chuckle. For the high price of admission something just a bit more creative is due.

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