It’s hard not to have a good time watching a Will Ferrell
movie. Ferrell’s just so likable onscreen that even when the material isn’t up to par, he somehow manages to make any film funnier just with his presence. Semi-Pro
is a great example of how Ferrell’s affable personality elevates an otherwise ho-hum comedy. Semi-Pro
won’t be considered one of his better efforts, but it’s still a semi-enjoyable movie with a handful of scenes that live up to what we’ve come to expect from a Ferrell film.
Directed by first-timer Kent Alterman from a screenplay by Scot Armstrong, Semi-Pro
doesn’t hit many three-pointers comedy-wise. There are more near-misses than zingers, but it does have Will Ferrell battling it out with an angry caged bear and that alone is worth checking out. Plus, Semi-Pro
allows fans to relive the glory days of the now defunct American Basketball Association, complete with its multicolored balls and goofy promotions meant to pack arenas. For those who miss the ABA, Semi-Pro
brings the league and its colorful characters back to life for a couple of hours in a story that won’t tax your brain and is semi-entertaining.
Will Ferrell stars as Jackie Moon, a one-hit wonder who made enough money off the ever-so-catchy disco tune "Love Me Sexy" to buy an ABA franchise. Jackie’s not only the owner, but also the coach and star player of the Flint Tropics, one of the lower-ranked teams in the league. Sporting a huge afro and super short-shorts (Ferrell seems to have “must wear tiny shorts” written into all his contracts), Jackie is also in charge of coming up with promotional gimmicks to get butts in seats. There’s a free corndog night and a basketball shooting contest for a chance to win $10,000 (which he doesn’t have and so he must go to great lengths to avoid having to pay out). Jackie also makes sure the diehard fans are entertained not just by the team’s skills on the court, but with goofball dance numbers choreographed by none other than Jackie himself. He is the heart, soul, and lead cheerleader of the Flint Tropics.
Andre Benjamin in Semi Pro.© New Line Cinema
But things aren’t looking rosy for the struggling league. It’s 1976 and the ABA is dissolving due to lack of attendance. Jackie takes the news like a wee baby at first, until he comes up with a plan to allow every team in the league the chance to be one of four ABA teams absorbed into the NBA. For the Flint Tropics to survive, they have to finish in fourth place (1st-3rd places are unreachable).
Will Ferrell generates the most laughs in Semi-Pro as the egotistical team owner who will do pretty much anything – even wrestle a bear and perform a daredevil stunt involving cheerleaders and skates – to keep his Tropics together. Ferrell gets down and gets funky, both on the court and off, and he’s achieved a certain comfort level playing this type of guy. But Jackie really does seem more like a spin-off of something Ferrell created before than a brand new character (there’s a lot of Ricky Bobby from Talladega Nights and Chazz Michael Michaels from Blades of Glory, and even a little of Ron Burgundy from Anchorman in Jackie Moon).
Andre Benjamin co-stars as the team’s hotshot, a player who could make the NBA but is stuck in ABA purgatory because he’s just not getting noticed. Benjamin’s fine as a basketball player, but his character’s way too serious and seems out of place in Semi-Pro
. The same can be said for Woody Harrelson (No Country for Old Men
), who co-stars as an ex-NBA player picked up by the Tropics during their brief run at fourth place. As Monix, Harrelson takes on the sort of 'wise old guy leading a pack of fledglings through the trenches' role seen in many sports movies. But Monix, an NBA player who earned a ring he never felt he deserved, doesn’t mesh with the rest of the story. It doesn’t help that Harrelson’s part of a distracting and unnecessary romantic side plot with ER
’s Maura Tierney that slows the film to a snail’s pace when featured.
The Flint Tropic celebrate a win in Semi-Pro.© New Line Cinema
The Bottom Line
I think this is a case of alternately trying too hard and not trying hard enough. When it works, Semi-Pro is an absurdly silly sports flick. When it doesn’t, it’s because we’ve either seen the gag before or the tone has shifted to something more serious than bear-wrestling and goofy half-time shows. Semi-Pro needed to stick with the zany basketball hijinks or scenes with the guys just riffing on each other (there’s a bit around a poker table involving a gun and putdowns that’s hilarious). In other words, it needs more of Ferrell doing what he does best. As it is, Semi-Pro only semi-works.
Semi-Pro was directed by Kent Alterman and is rated R for language and some sexual content.