Will Ferrell, Andre Benjamin, Woody Harrelson, Andy Richter, Maura Tierney, Rob Corddry, Jackie Earle Haley
"Semi-Pro" isn't a bad film.
The problem is that "Semi-Pro" isn't really a good film, either.
"Semi-Pro" is a Will Ferrell film.
Do you like Will Ferrell? If you do, then odds are you will at least appreciate "Semi-Pro."
If, however, you've grown tired of Ferrell's man/boy shtick with alternating fits of innocence and immature, goofball rage then "Semi-Pro" isn't going to change your mind.
With "Semi-Pro," Ferrell offers a slight variation on the same exact thing he's given audiences in "Blades of Glory," "Talladega Nights" and his other films. Sure, "Semi-Pro" is rated R and, as a result, Ferrell and his cronies can cut loose a bit more with their adult-themed improvisation. However, the slightly more adult theme aside, "Semi-Pro" is Ferrell doing the same routine he's been doing only this time he's doing it on a basketball court.
The storyline is simple. Jackie Moon (Will Ferrell) is a player/owner/coach for the Flint Tropics of the American Basketball Association, a lower-end ABA team during the league's waning days when it is announced that the ABA is merging with the NBA. However, it is also decided that only the top four teams will move to the NBA. Moon goes all out to get the Tropics into that fourth spot by signing aging superstar Ed Monix (Woody Harrelson).
First-time feature film director Kent Alterman and screenwriter Scot Armstrong can't seem to decide what they want "Semi-Pro" to be. It bounces around between typical Ferrell comedy flick to feel-good sports flick to semi-serious sports flick and never settles into a real groove.
Ferrell has proven previously, especially in the strangely endearing "Elf," that he can play sincerity while maintaining his overall goofball presence. It shouldn't be much of a stretch for Ferrell to combine sincerity with over-the-top humor, but in "Semi-Pro" he's simply out of control and, unfortunately, the vast majority of the humor is predictable and not really that funny.
Somewhat surprisingly, "Semi-Pro" is most entertaining when Ferrell's Jackie Moon is taking a backseat to the film's supporting players, including Harrelson's Monix, a delightful Andre Benjamin as up-and-coming Coffee Black, Maura Tierney as Jackie's ex-girlfriend and Rob Cordrry as her new boyfriend.
"Semi-Pro" is likely to play better in former ABA cities, where audiences will resonate with the outlandish marketing routines and 70's pop culture that permeated the more entertaining basketball league that ultimately couldn't survive. As a lifelong resident of Indianapolis, I found myself chuckling multiple times just remembering back to similar Indiana Pacer special gimmicks, game nights and community outreach events that featured players who weren't that far removed from Jackie Moon and his Flint Tropics.
The ABA was just the type of league that would attract an owner like Moon, a one-hit wonder whose proceeds from that one hit allowed him to purchase the team.
Heck, I'm chuckling now just thinking about it.
Fans of the old ABA will marvel at the film's casual and laid back approach, while most others are likely to watch it going "Are they even trying?"
What is actually a pretty decent spoof of a not too widely known basketball league is likely to leave many audience members scratching their heads in bewilderment.
As is true of most of Ferrell's comedy films, a host of folks show up in supporting roles large and small. Again, most garner more chuckles than even Ferrell himself. Jackie Earle Haley is great as a stoner, while SNL's Kristen Wiig is quite funny as an inadequate bear handler. Will Arnett and Tim Meadows are also SNL alums who show up in brief yet funny appearances.
Unfortunately, "Semi-Pro" never quite reaches its maximum potential in spoofing an era and attitude long gone from professional sports. Nevertheless, while "Semi-Pro" isn't anywhere near the best of Ferrell, it's a consistently funny and surprisingly sincere look at a little nugget of sports history that remains near and dear to anyone who looks back at that red, white and blue basketball and smiles.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic