Will Ferrell is trying to corner the sports comedy market. After lampooning Nascar in Talladega Nights and figure skating in Blades of Glory, Ferrell now tries to go for the hat trick with Semi-Pro, a wildly uneven basketball flick set in the 70’s. Any day now I expect him to announce he’s starring in a roller derby movie called Wheels of Fire.
Ferrell plays a one-hit wonder who used all his money to purchase his favorite semi-professional basketball team, naming himself the coach/promoter/announcer/power forward. When the league is on the verge of dissolving, the NBA steps in and agrees to graduate the four top teams into the big leagues and Ferrell and company do whatever it takes to win basketball games, and more importantly boost attendance. Ferrell’s marketing schemes get some of the movies best laughs as he tries everything from giving away free corndogs to wrestling a bear in hopes of putting asses in the seats. He even gets a washed pro baller (Woody Harrelson) to help lead the team to victory. (He was traded to the team in exchange for their washing machine.)
Semi-Pro has all the makings of a good comedy, but the problem is that first time director Kent Alterman doesn’t know whether he wants to make a foul-mouthed, serio-comic, feel-good sports movie (like Slap Shot) or a brain-dead, over-the-top Will Ferrell comedy (like Anchorman). The outrageous antics of Ferrell don’t exactly mesh well with the melodramatic subplot of Harrelson trying to reconnect with his now married ex-flame (Maura Tierney). I know this is a sports movie, so there’s going to be lots of clichés, but how many obligatory “We have to learn how to work as a team!” montages do we have to sit through in these kinds of movies? Ferrell's teammates are all unmemorable and lack any distinctive personality. The only reason we know that Andre Benjamin will be the team showoff that learns how to be a team leader is because he has the biggest Afro on the team.
Even though the movie is rated R, Ferrell seems pretty watered-down in this flick and his shtick is about as consistent as Shaq’s free-throw ability. If the movie had allowed Ferrell to really cut loose and take full advantage of the R rating, Semi-Pro could’ve been a blast. Luckily there are some truly funny moments sprinkled throughout the film, mostly thanks to some pretty funny cameos by Jackie Earle (Bad News Bears) Haley as a hippie, Kristen (Knocked Up) Wiig as the bear trainer and the other Will from Blades of Glory, Will Arnett as a sportscaster who gets the best line of the movie: “Swedish made porn was the only thing that got me through ‘Nam!”