Will Ferrell, Jon Heder, Amy Poehler, Will Arnett, Jenna Fischer
Josh Gordon, Will Speck
Jeff Cox, Craig Cox
I love Jon Heder. I love Will Ferrell, almost in the way that Nick Swardson loves Jimmy MacElroy in this film.
So, why did I only "like" "Blades of Glory," the latest in Ferrell's kaleidoscope of unique characters set in the world of ice skating?
Despite an often hilarious script that falls somewhere between "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy" and "Talladega Nights" and the spot-on performances of Ferrell and Heder as rival men's singles figure skaters who team-up after a fight causes both men to be stripped of their gold medals, there were several shots in "Blades of Glory" so distractingly inept that during multiple scenes throughout the film I found myself jerked out of a scene, joke or storyline by camera shots that would either slow down the action, freeze it or inexplicably linger on either Ferrell or Heder's face or crotch.
We get the point already...funny, ha ha, two straight men figure skating have to hug each other and touch each other's balls.
It was funny the first time...heck, it was even funny the second time. Thanks to Ferrell and Heder, in fact, it was often funny until finally the lingering got just plain old and, suddenly, it became more distracting than funny.
Cinematographer Stefan Czapsky ("Ed Wood" and "Wild Wild West" among others) seems to fall victim to what can only be explained as inexperienced direction by Josh Gordon and Will Speck. Gordon and Speck all too often force the cheap laugh instead of waiting for the huge comic payoff. Repeatedly, "Blades of Glory" offers us awkward slow-motion shots throughout the ice skating scenes. We're talking slow-motion almost to the point of stillness. It almost felt as if Ferrell's acknowledged gift for facial expressions was anticipated and the camera was just sitting there waiting for a response.
One of Ferrell's greatest gifts as a comic is the perfectly timed spontaneous gesture, facial expression or random action. It felt as if Gordon and Speck, either through inexperience or impatience, were simply trying to force what Ferrell already does so naturally.
While the camera occasionally betrayed the overall free spirited nature of the film, the fact remains that "Blades of Glory" is likely to be one of 2007's funniest "C" range films. While Jeff and Craig Cox's script (there are three other writers who also get a script credit) occasionally feels remarkably predictable and too often relies on cheap physical gags, Ferrell and Heder manage to make the most of what are essentially thinly drawn characters.
Ferrell, who by now has established the reputation for being willing to do virtually anything for the sake of a laugh or a character, fleshes out the showier of the two characters, Chazz Michael Michaels. Chazz, who has the reputation of being "sex on ice," is a perfect character for Ferrell's innate ability to be simultaneously raunchy and vulnerable onscreen. Even when the script isn't particularly funny, somehow, Ferrell milks the scene for every laugh possible.
Perhaps as evidenced by Jacob's fondness for "Blades of Glory," Jon Heder also shines as the kinder, gentler Jimmy MacElroy. In a role that seems to combine a little bit of just about everything we've seen Heder do onscreen, here we see Heder break away more concretely from his Napoleon Dynamite role with more authority than we've ever seen from a Heder performance.
The supporting cast all performs nicely, most notably real-life husband and wife Amy Poehler and Will Arnett as a creepily incestuous brother/sister team who eerily resemble figure skating's notorious bad girl Tonya Harding and her former beau, Jeff Gillooly. Jenna Fischer, as their odd sibling out isn't called to do much here, but adds a nice human touch to proceedings that often get downright bizarre. Craig T. Nelson also offers his usual dependable performance as Chazz and Jimmy's coach, a man obsessed with pulling off an impossible move, "The Iron Lotus," while Nick Swardson shows up as a Jimmy-obsessed fan who has stalking down to a fine art.
"Blades of Glory," oddly enough, almost works. It's a funny film. In fact, it's almost the perfect example of a film where most audience members will read a review and go "See, that's why I hate critics. They're so out of touch with what people want to see."
To a certain degree, I must admit that this is probably a valid point. For all its technical and script, "Blades of Glory" is a good-hearted, funny and often entertaining film. The vast majority of those in the audience were laughing...many hysterically. I'd be surprised to hear too many people complain about the technical issues that so distracted me, and I doubt that too many folks will be bothered by the fact that the joke that's making them laugh in "Blades of Glory" is pretty darn similar to the joke that made them laugh in "Anchorman," "Talladega Nights," "Old School" and, yes, even "Elf."
The typical American moviegoing audience isn't distracted by having to pay attention to the technical aspects of film, the cohesion of a script or the natural development of characters. In no way is this an insult...for most people, "it made me laugh" equals "it was a great film."
I just can't agree. I've seen and rated nearly 13,000 films in my life.
I've seen unique, innovative and fresh scripts..."Blades of Glory" doesn't have one.
I've seen brilliant production design with camera work that powerfully enhances even the lowest budget film...this ain't it.
I've seen directors who trust their casts enough to not go for cheap physical gags...Josh Gordon and Will Speck, whose last feature film was nine years ago, show promise but too often are impatient in rushing to humor. In so doing this, they often disregard Ferrell's greatest talents as an actor and the natural chemistry that exists between Ferrell and Heder.
In short, as funny as "Blades of Glory" is, thanks almost entirely to Ferrell and Heder, this could have been a much better film.
"Blades of Glory" ranges in its approach from satire early on, complete with numerous skating cameos, to an almost absurdist approach in the latter parts of the film. While many of the bits are quite funny, occasionally Gordon and Speck push the envelope a bit too far and, in particular, the ending leaves you going "What the **** is that all about?"
"Blades of Glory" is, when it comes down to it, a film designed primarily for fans of Ferrell's previous films, however, it offers the double blessing of an unexpectedly energetic, humorous performance from Jon Heder as the perfect balance to Ferrell's lunacy. While "Blades of Glory" is, from a critical perspective, short of a gold medal film, there's no denying that this film has all the makings of a return to box-office gold for Will Ferrell.
- Richard Propes
The Independent Critic