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Review

Predictable Ferrell movie ‘Semi-Pro’ underwhelms reviewers

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March 6, 2008

Counting this critique of the new sports comedy “Semi-Pro,” all of my reviews for the semester thus far have been negative. This can mean one of two things: either I’m an ornery curmudgeon who’s hard to please, or movies these days just plain stink (it could very well be both, as well).

That’s not to say that “Semi-Pro” is a bad movie, but it’s one that easily could’ve been better. Following the same approach as previous Will Ferrell vehicles, one of throwing jokes at the wall and seeing what sticks, “Semi-Pro” finds itself with a floor littered with comedic noodles.

Ferrell stars in this ‘70s-set yukfest as Jackie Moon, the owner, coach and power forward for the Flint Tropics, one of the worst basketball teams in America. The team’s future takes a turn toward the grim with the announcement of a merger between the NBA and the ABA — a merger that will mean the dissolution of the Tropics. Not one to go down without a fight, Jackie convinces the powers-that-be to allow the four best-playing teams in the league to remain at the end of the season. Of course, to be one of the lucky four, this means the Tropics will actually have to start playing well. But with the addition of a burnt-out basketball veteran (Woody Harrelson), this motley crew just might have what it takes to make the cut.

Your enjoyment of “Semi-Pro” will depend a lot on what you thought of Ferrell’s previous outing, “Blades of Glory,” since it’s essentially the same movie, only with a lot more swearing. And just like “Blades of Glory,” the incredibly random sense of humor that’s become Ferrell’s trademark has become almost painfully restricted by the confines of being even partially a sports movie. “Anchorman” and “Talladega Nights” worked because Ferrell and company played up the absurdity of their surroundings. In “Semi-Pro,” all the focus is on Jackie Moon, leaving one kernel of potential humor to play off of a sports-oriented story that’s going through the same motions as those movies that are actually trying to be serious.

There’s even a romantic subplot involving Harrelson’s character and a former flame (Maura Tierney) that feels like it was airlifted from a completely different film. Few potshots are taken at the basketball aspect of the plot, so most of what you get here in terms of humor is Ferrell screaming whatever’s in his head at the top of his lungs. Still, there are a handful of pretty funny moments, mostly having to do with Jackie’s relentless (and shameless) promotion schemes, including a “free corn dog” night that he amusingly tries to sabotage.

The pantheon of great sports comedies is filled with such hilarious titles as “Major League” and “Dodgeball.” But while “Semi-Pro” has a lot more laughs than something like “The Comebacks,” don’t expect it to join the upper echelon of its genre anytime soon.

A.J. Hakari is a student at UW-River Falls.