Unfortunately for Will Ferrell, Semi-Pro will probably go down in history as “That basketball movie with Will Ferrell wearing an afro,” or, “That movie where that poor stunt double got mauled by a bear.” Either way you put it, both of these unfiltered quotes could probably be combined to sum up the movie as a whole: Will Ferrell. Playing basketball. With an afro. And getting mauled by a bear. There really isn’t much more to this lackluster, sport-themed comedy than that. Will Ferrell, like Shaq at the free throw line, is entirely undpredicatable when it comes to making movies. Sometimes, he can land a slam dunk and elevate himself to comic god-like status with movies like Old School and Talladega Nights. Other times, he misses both shots at the free throw line and brings down the whole damn team with atrocities like Kicking and Screaming and Bewitched. Well, taking that whole basketball analogy a bit further, Will Ferrell’s latest entry to the sports world, Semi-Pro is a missed opportunity that winds up costing the whole team the last game of the finals. This ultimately makes it a horrible decision for anybody and everybody involved.
The worst part of all this though, is that all this could have been avoided if the cast had had a better script to work with. Instead, obvious lead in jokes often stumble, action scenes clunk along, and Will Ferrell is just left to stand around and scream his fuzzy, little head off. In the end, it’s easy to see that the star is using whatever moxie he can to try and not look bored in this unabashedly terrible film.
Given how bad the movie is, it’s all the more a shame to find that the story actually has some potential. It’s the follow-up lay-up,though that’s the problem, and that’s what ultimately jumbles this whole movie experience. Will Ferrell stars as Jackie Moon, a disco star in the late 70s whose rise to fame is spearheaded by a ludicrously explicit disco song called “Love Me Sexy.” It was this song that made him rich enough to purchase the fictitious Flint Michigan Tropics for reasons that are never quite explained throughout the entirety of the movie.
The problem is that as the current coach, owner, and even player for the team, he’s also responsible for the team’s future, which is put in jeopardy when the NBA threatens to buy out the ABA in a merger that could possibly close the Tropic’s franchise forever. It’s up to Will Ferrell to get his losing team to winning status if he wants to save them from impending doom and the inevitable closing of their doors. It’s a story that definitely could have worked in the right hands. I mean, Dodgeball worked, and that’s almost the exact same story: Underdogs on the verge of losing their territory fight back to hilarious results. Seriously, what could possibly go wrong?
Apparently, everthing as Semi-Pro quickly goes downhill in the very first few moments of the movie. Will Arnett playing a smarmy announcer donning a very 70s’ style mustache should work in theory, so why doesn’t it? And Andre Benjamin, who’s great in everything he does, also seems to just hang around and do nothing, as his character, Clarence Withers/Coffee Black/and other names that aren’t very funny, doesn’t have a single smile worthy moment in the entire film. Not a signle one! Hey ya, Hollywood, what the hell are you doing? Andre Benjamin pretty much epitomizes the entire concept of the word fun, so how could you possibly render the Outkast star charmless?
And then there’s Woody Harrelson, playing the role of a washed up, love-sick former basketball champion who comes to the aid of the Tropics in their dire time of need. As soon as Woody Harrelson gives his, I-hate-my-current-life scowl and starts kicking in cop car windows, you wonder if anybody on the set actually told him to loosen up as he looks like he just stepped off the wrong sound stage. That’s a shame, too, as Harrelson has already proven that he could do basketball dramedy in White Men Can’t Jump, but that’s also a huge problem with Semi-Pro in the first place—you really can’t tell which direction this film is heading in.
Of course, if it has Will Ferrell screaming and making a lot of noise, it has to be a comedy, right? But that’s where you’d be wrong as there are just too many dour moments in the film that completely sour the deal. With Woody Harrelson’s depressed character, it’s obvious that we’re not going to get any memorable catch-phrases any time soon, but with Will Ferrell, we expect more; much more. At times, Will Ferrell’s character seems just as pathetic as Harrelson’s character does, and not to comedic effect as you’d see in other over-the-top Will Ferrell movies that have just the right touch of heart and character to make them classics (see: Elf).
Overall, it’s the lack of laughs, good characters, and famous Ferrell-isms that hamper this misguided movie. Semi-Pro is one missed jump shot after another, and that makes you wonder... did anybody even read the script? If so, like Shaq, who has plenty of hours to shoot freethrows and practice, there’s no excuse for this movie. It's yet another bad Ferrell film that doesn’t live up to the hype of the name printed on the marquee poster. For shame, Will Ferrell, for shame. As much as I hate to admit it, Will Ferrell is actually a pretty funny guy. I say I hate to admit it because so many people out there will watch any of his films and laugh at him just because he’s well, you know, Will Ferrell. It’s gotten to the point that I actually begin to cringe when people call him the funniest man alive when they’re basing their opinions solely on his stand alone performances in Anchorman and Talledega Nights.and not on drek like Kicking and Screaming and Bewitched.
In a way, it’s as if his fans just ignore those movies completely instead of including them in his overall oeuvre, which is extremely irritating when you bring up his bad movies in conversation and all his fans tend to do is stick their fingers in their ears and chant, “la la la la la,” while you try to talk over their din.
Case in point is Semi-Pro and the DVD extras for the two disc special edition that come attached to it. When he’s just riffing and being himself on the many different featurettes on this special edition, two disc set, Will’s immediately funny. But when he’s discussing the ABA or his character, the afro topped Jackie Moon, he begins to get a little sour, dour even, and this rubs off on the movie tremendously, as seen in his appearance in the brief special feature, “A Short History of the ABA.” Here, Ferrell discusses just why this movie was such a good idea in the first place, even though deep down in his heart (and in his eyes, you can’t fool anyone with those eyes, Will!) you know he couldn’t give two licks about it. Truthfully, you actually start to believe that he just did this movie because he wants to make a comedy about every sport that’s out there and will even take on terrible roles such as this one just to make sure it happens.
In “A Short History of the ABA,” director Kent Alterman discusses what led him to take on the project, his first, and the very easily amused former ABA player, James Silas, laughs on and on and on about afros and the clothes the characters are wearing in the movie. All the while, Ferrell just gives a stoic expression for the camera as if he were reading off a teleprompter while discussing his role, which he very well may be.
Another one of the featurettes,“Recreating the ABA,” also features Will discussing basketball, but this time, you actually get to see him passing the pill on the set and playing a game or two. When he’s up and moving, you can tell he’s having a great time as it means he doesn’t have to say any dull lines or feign interest in the project, but when he’s just sitting around in his “Jackie Moon,” chair, he gets back to being bored, which is even further evidence that he really doesn’t like his character.
It’s only when we get to see Will in the “Love Me Sexy: Creating a One Hit Wonder” feature that we really get to see him wig out, and that’s where these special features really shine. Will actually came up with the melody for the song in the movie on the spot at a table read, which proves he probably should have improvised the whole thing. Rounding out the special features are a few deleted scenes, none of which are very funny, a feature about spending time in Flint, Michigan, and also a feature about a personal account the director had that’s actually more interesting than the actual movie itself.
And last but not least is the extra feature that will surely get Will Ferrell fanatics to shell out a few extra bucks for this special edition two disc set—The unrated, “Let’s get sweaty” version of the film. Sadly, all I can say is that the unrated version of the movie should have actually been the regular version of the movie since there’s nothing really all that different about it that warrants it being too hardcore for an R rating.
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