Will Ferrell's Semi-Pro is a dreadful comedy. It's lazy and slipshod. On RottenTomatoes, it received 24 percent favorable from critics, and, even more notable, 49 percent of viewers thought it was rotten.
If Semi-Pro is so lackluster, then why don't we leave the theater with scowls on our faces? The answer is Will Farrell -- the Baby Huey of acting.
Will Farrell is so good-natured, he doesn't allow us to scowl. Even though he's trotting out stale shtick, Farrell has a happy earnestness that almost sells his material. Almost. He's like a lovable salesman hawking junk.
Semi-Pro is set in 1976, and Jackie Moon (Farrell) is the ebullient, wacky owner/promoter/coach/and player of the Flint, Michigan Tropics, the worst team in the faltering American Basketball Association.
The ABA is dissolving, and Moon decides to try to get his ragtag team into the NBA. He trades the team's washing machine for a bench player (Woody Harrelson) from the Boston Celtics -- yes, this is the kind of vapid cleverness that is the benchmark of this movie.
The bench player named Monix revives the team, and with the help of the flashy star (Andre Benjamin) and the buoyant promoter/coach, the team becomes a fan favorite.
Ferrell has strip-mined the 1970's. There are a few allusions to movies of the '70s -- half-baked Russian Roulette from The Deer Hunter and music from 2001 -- but Semi-Pro is much less than its allusions.
The humor remains dormant. I laughed two times. No, it wasn't the cursing; cursing has to be more inventive to make me react. Nor was it the puking scene, or the masturbation scene, or the urination scene.
It was the basketball scene when Jackie Moon runs around desperately yelling "doubleteam him," as he tries to keep his team from scoring their 125th point, which will give the fans free corndogs. It was worth a chuckle.
As usual in Will Ferrell's movies, there are some gifted actors in Semi-Pro. Woody Harrelson somehow gets through the fullcourt press of stupidity that Ferrell throws at him. Harrelson acts as though he is in a better movie.
Andre Benjamin, Maura Tierney, et al. also try to fill their sketchy roles, but Ferrell dithers away most of the sense around them.
The Will Ferrell franchise shows how important his allies are. If Adam McKay is aboard, the movie floats; if hacks are aboard, the movie sinks. Semi-Pro is hacked to the bottom.
McKay directed and co-wrote Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004), and he also directed and co-wrote Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006). Unfortunately, with Semi-Pro, McKay is nowhere to be found.
Semi-Pro is directed by first-timer Kent Alterman, who previously was an executive producer. Stay in the office, Kent.
Writer Scot Armstrong is Alterman's equal. His credits include Starsky and Hutch and the remake of The Heartbreak Kid. Yikes.
Director Alterman and writer Armstrong sink Ferrell with them. He flails through flat direction and bad dialogue.
The good news is that McKay avoided this mess, and he directed and co-wrote another Will Ferrell movie scheduled for release in July. It's titled Step Brothers, and John C. Reilly rejoins Ferrell.
Let's hope Step Brothers is a better movie for Will Ferrell to promote. He recently joined in partnership with Old Spice, and they're helping promote Semi-Pro.
In January Old Spice released a new Pro-Strength deodorant. It was necessary for this movie.
For a change of pace, you might want to listen to interviews that I conducted in the 70s and 80s, some of which were published in my book Voices from the Set: The Film Heritage Interviews (2000).
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