I have no doubt that a 70’s funk-style basketball comedy starring Will Ferrell with giant, frizzy hair sounded great at a pitch meeting. Had a script been written, I’m confident that we could have had a great comedy on our hands. Instead, we get what largely looks to be drawn-out improvisation that too-often feels lazy and even lacks a punch line at times. Scot Armstrong gets a screenplay credit, but I have a feeling he only turned in a treatment. That’s not to say the movie is totally unfunny, but any recommendable and successful comedy has focus; Semi-Pro does not.
Will Ferrell is Jackie Moon, the energetic owner/player/former hit singer of the Flint Michigan Tropics of the ABA. The team barely draws a crowd and Jackie can’t even afford the bizarre giveaways that the team uses as bait to get people to show up. A meeting with the commissioner (David Koechner) reveals that the ABA is about to merge with the NBA. Jackie is ecstatic and seeing dollar signs. The problem is that the NBA is taking on four teams and the rest will be dissolved. The Tropics are piss poor, and they must draw an average crowd of 2,000 fans per home game and place in the top four by season’s end. With a little help from the legend that is Monix (Harrelson), it may be possible.
The skeleton of a plot actually sets up some great comedic pieces, particularly a poker game sequence that ends with a variation of Russian roulette. Die-hard fans of Ferrell will find lots to like as this is his film and he’s in every frame. Are you a die-hard? Here’s a good test: Does the prospect of Ferrell yelling “I’ll burn your house down!” with his wild-eyed scream at a threatening referee make you laugh hysterically? I admit I was amused, but that’s about the extent of it. The main problem is that too much of the film is unfocused and gambles big-time on the talent of the supporting cast, which is sketchy more often than not.
This is Ferrell’s show and he runs with it. You can’t fault the guy for effort. Never one to be shy about his own body, Ferrell gives the audience a wink at every possible stop as he frolics in short-shorts and kisses the basketball before he shoots. His improvised freak-outs are on full display and the choice to make the character of Jackie more profane than the usual Ferrell caricature is a wise one. The supporting cast is hit-and-miss, although Harrelson is perfectly cast as a variation of his Roy Munson character from Kingpin.
I’m a moderate Will Ferrell fan, and that’s why I moderately enjoyed Semi-Pro. His legion of die-hard fans will have little to complain about as the pacing is solid and there’s always some kind of madness in every scene. The film just really needs a script that focuses on parody rather than puns and less improvisation by supporting comedians that don’t have the skill of Ferrell. If you’re a Ferrell disciple looking for some laughs and an escape from the frigid outdoors, this is your ticket. For the rest of us, it will make for a perfect rainy day summer rental.
Studio: New Line Cinema
Length: 90 Minutes
Rating: R for Language and some sexual content.
Theatrical Release: February 29, 2008
Directed by: Kent Alterman
Written by: Scot Armstrong
Cast: Will Ferrell, Woody Harrelson, Andre ‘Andre 3000’ Benjamin, Jay Phillips, Will Arnett, Josh Braaten