'Semi Pro:' Ferrell is semi-funny
Imagine "Anchorman" on a basketball court. "Talladega Nights" with afros, "Blades of Glory" set circa 1976. It almost seems like Will Ferrell plays the same role in every comedy- the self-indulgent incompetent who somehow finds himself in the limelight.
I'd have to say that I didn't find much terribly entertaining about SNL alum Ferrell's much-promoted latest vehicle, "Semi Pro," but at the same time, our sports editor Tom Renaud also screened the flick and pronounced it quite filled with laughs, if mainly of the hairbrained variety.
Humor, then, may be in the eye of the beholder.
"Semi Pro" is the story of Jackie Moon, a one-hit-wonder disco singer who has parlayed his fleeting fame into a role as owner-coach-player of the Flindt, Michigan Tropics, an ABA pro basketball team struggling to make the top four in the final year of the fabled league so they can be absorbed into the NBA.
That really happened, by the way, for the Pacers, Spurs, Nets and Nuggets, but the Tropics are purely fictional.
Predictably, the Tropics are a collection of loveable losers, led by Moon - Ferrell - who knows nothing about basketball. The star player, "Coffee Black" (played by Andre "3000" Benjamin of the pop group OutKast) is the selfish showboater convinced that NBA stardom awaits him.
When Moon trades the team's washing machine for an aging, combative former Boston Celtics bench-rider, Ed Monix (Woody Harrelson), the team begins to learn the game and climb in the standings, and fans begin to fill the formerly vacant stands.
Can the Tropics fight their way - literally, in a scene stolen right out of "Slap Shot" - to the elusive fourth place that will keep the team together?
Don't ask me. By then I was wishing I was home watching "The Fish Who Saved Pittsburg" - the original to this story. Or better yet, seeing Woody in a MUCH better role in "White Men Can't Jump," the best basketball comedy of all time.
"Semi Pro" tries for the prerequisite inspirational moment when a Coffee gives up his NBA shot to rejoin the downtrodden Tropics, but it is at its best when Ferrell is seemingly freestyling - as in his kooky stunts to draw fans to the games - wrestling a bear or attempting to jump over the scantily-clad ballgirls wearing roller skates.
At best, I'd say it's an okay diversion for a later winter's night when there's no real hoops on the tube. At worst, it's a comedy that falls flat in a lot of places - with scenes of handgun Russian roulette and masturbation that make it less than suitable for families. Harrelson's considerable talent is flat-out wasted on his role; Benjamin is surprisingly quite decent and believable.
I'd have to say that the only thing really memorable was that Ferrell spent six months growing a real afro. That's commitment.
* "Semi Pro:" Our score - one star out of four. Rated R for mock sex and violence. Run time 90 minutes.