“Semi-Pro” is not even semi-funny. It takes what looks like an unmissable slam dunk of a premise and turns it into a big, noisy airball of a movie without a single truly funny moment.
Will Ferrell in the 1970’s — automatically funny, right? (“Anchorman”) Will Ferrell doing sports — automatically funny, right? (“Talladega Nights,” “Blades of Glory”) Then what an inspired idea it must have seemed, to put Ferrell in the story of the outrageous outlaw league the American Basketball Association, which enlivened sports from 1967-76 with its mix of basketball and showmanship until it merged with the NBA. Box office magic, right?
Not with this script.
Ferrell plays Jackie Moon, the team owner, coach, and power forward of the Flint, Michigan Tropics basketball team the juxtaposition of the chilly car-manufacturing town and the team’s sunshine and flamingos graphics is just one of many examples of this movie’s attempt to make incongruity substitute for wit.
Moon bought the team with the proceeds from his one-hit-wonder pop song (clumsy attempt to play off of the 1970’s were cheesy theme by inserting a faux , and has tried every possible tactic to keep it going, from offering free corn dogs if the score goes over 125 points to trading the team’s washing machine for a new player, Monix (Woody Harrelson), who once played on an NBA championship team, even if he never made it onto the floor for the finals. The pending merger of the ABA and NBA can only absorb four of the ABA teams. Jackie resolves to be that fourth team, and he and Monix have to come up with a way to start winning some games and selling some tickets. Monix works on skills and strategy and Moon tries to jump a motorcycle over a line of cheerleaders and wrestles a bear.
It would be ironic if it weren’t so tedious that this is a film about players who will do any crazy thing to interest an audience except work on winning some games while the movie itself will do anything to interest an audience except put in some funnier jokes. Over and over again and then over again again it throws everything at the audience but genuine humor. The characters are dull and one-dimensional. Moon is the same arrogant and clueless character we have seen Ferrell play too many times before with much more that was interesting to do than wrestle a bear and sing a raunchy song. It is supposed to be funny that a man is more insulted by being called a jive turkey than by being called an unprintable epithet. And then it is supposed to be funny that the joke is repeated and stretched out. It is also supposed to be funny that Monix’s ex (the criminally underused Maura Tierney) has a new boyfriend (husband?) who is such a Monix fan that he is not only not jealous but actually, uh, excited by seeing the two of them together.
The jokes are cheap, underwritten retreads,with half-hearted attempts to draw humor from how funny it was that back in the 70’s we didn’t know that Michael Jackson would grow up to be weird or CDs hadn’t been invented yet and tapes were reel-to-reel. We’re talking the 70’s, people. It’s almost impossible not to hit the mark in making fun of just about anything that people wore, danced to, or thought was cool in that decade, but this one scores less often than the hapless team members it portrays. Then there are the quarter-hearted jokes like having the team members stand around in funny tropical costumes or wearing guyliner and then having it run and sting their eyes or having briefly-respectable Jackie Earle Haley deplete all of his recent credibility with the role that in Adam Sandler movies gets assigned to Rob Schneider. The film has no energy and its pacing lags. It tries to make the inability to vomit funny. It fails. More than once. Even the bear was funnier the first time around, in “Anchorman.” Done well, profanity can be poetic, but here it is just dull. You know how your mom always told you that bad language was used by people with no imagination? This is the movie that proves she was right.
Parents should know that this film has extremely strong and vulgar language and crude sexual references and situations including pornography. There is comic violence and peril, including stunts, a brawl, and Russian roulette. A strength of the film is the strong relationships between characters of different races, but there are insensitive insults about developmental disabilities and a priest uses bad language and behaves in a crass manner.
Families who see this film should talk about the differences between the ABA and NBA and the difference (and similarities) between sports and entertainment.
Families who enjoy this film will also enjoy The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings (some mature material), about baseball team in the Negro League, before baseball was integrated.