Some people might say that Will Ferrell is coasting, taking it easy, or skirting by on proven formula -- and that may be the case. There's a lot in Ferrell's latest flick, Semi-Pro, that feels like material left over from the comedian's soccer comedy (Kicking & Screaming), his car-racing comedy (Talladega Nights), and his figure-skating comedy (Blades of Glory) -- but it's really tough to complain when a comedian doles out "the same old schtick" when that same old schtick is still pretty damn funny. A recent interview with Entertainment Weekly indicates that Ferrell is pretty much finished with sports comedies, and that's probably just as well. Oh, and for the record: I happen to think Semi-Pro is Ferrell's best sports flick yet -- and probably his most consistently amusing movie since Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy.
Semi-Pro marks the popular comedian's first foray into R-rated comedy, at least as far as his "leading man" status goes. So while much of the flick's broad, silly, and slyly absurd humor bounces across the screen, it will all feel very (perhaps comfortably) familiar to Ferrell's loyal fans -- but I'm not ashamed to admit that the inclusion of several F-bombs help to make the flick a whole lot funnier. We don't often get to hear Will Ferrell tell someone to "S his C," but the golden-'froed goofball dives into the potty-mouth material with a lot of enthusiasm. Semi-Pro is not an aggressively raunchy comedy, but it's definitely NOT for the 10-year-old Ferrell fans out there. (Sorry, kids. Go watch Elf again. It's hilarious.)
Since the flick is a fairly aimless combination of Ferrell's recent flicks, I'll keep the synopsis short: It's the mid-'70s in Flint, Michigan, and it's there that "one hit wonder" pop star Jackie Moon owns and operates a semi-pro basketball team called the Flint Tropics. But when the commissioner decrees that Moon's beloved team of idiots is destined for the exit door, well, the lovable dolts have to save their team! Exactly: It's so generic a story it's almost a satire of "sports flick" conventions -- except that the movie is more of a showcase for Ferrell's patented lunacy than it is an actual satire.
Unfortunately, the direction by first-timer Kent Alterman is fairly flat and sitcom-ish, and if Scot Armstrong's screenplay was just a little bit smarter and/or grittier, Semi-Pro could have been a sports comedy in league with the awesome Slap Shot -- instead of just another funny-but-kinda redundant Will Ferrell vehicle. (Matter of fact, the story's pretty uneventful and the flick is plagued with spotty editing; Ferrell and his cast salvage the flick from its own sketchiness at every turn.) So there's a missed opportunity there, but why knock a flick for what it's not? Ferrell fans will dig it. Of that I'm pretty damn confident.
As he often does, Will Ferrell cedes some of the comedic spotlight to his supporting players: Woody Harrelson is on hand to remind us that his comedic chops are still perfectly fresh (even if his character suffers from a seriously pointless romantic subplot), Andre Benjamin proves to be a surprisingly funny performer, and (of course) the background is peppered with amusing quips from the likes of David Koechner, Rob Corddry, Andy Richter, Will Arnett, Matt Walsh and (particularly) Andrew Daly as a nerdy announcer. The "amusingly odd cameo appearance" goes to Jackie Earle Haley as a stinky hippie who's owed ten grand from goofy ol' Jackie Moon.
Like most popular comedians, Ferrell has found a niche and he's doing some consistently funny work there these days. Although it's been injected with a fair dose of funny profanity, Semi-Pro suffers a bit from being the guy's fourth sports comedy in as many years -- but unlike some comedians who run one joke into the ground (sorry, Sandler), Ferrell is still able to wring some real chuckles out of a very familiar blueprint. I guess the guy's just that funny.