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Ferrell clanks in mediocre “Semi-Pro”

Cassie Belek | Monday, March 10, 2008

Will Ferrell’s act may be getting old but it’s still good for a few laughs. In his latest comedy offering, “Semi-Pro,” Ferrell squeezes into a pair of short shorts and continues his trend of playing an oversized buffoon who can’t seem to get a grip on reality. It’s a shtick that has brought in box office gold over the years, but after seeing “Semi-Pro,” it is clear that Ferrell will need to explore new avenues before his comedy becomes stale. But then again, he does wrestle a bear this time around.

Ferrell stars as Jackie Moon, a one-hit wonder (for the disco ditty “Love Me Sexy”) and owner, head coach and power forward of the Flint Tropics, the worst team in the American Basketball Association. When Jackie finds out that the ABA is going to merge with the National Basketball Association, he convinces the ABA commissioner (David Koechner) to take the top four teams to the NBA, giving the Tropics one last chance for survival. Not only does Jackie become an expert at promotions to increase attendance (hence the bear wrestling), but he trades the team’s washing machine for former Boston Celtics player Ed Monix (Woody Harrelson). Monix is a washed-up point guard, but he takes his basketball know-how and tries to turn the team around in time for the merger.

The movie hits a major snag with the pacing. First-time director Ken Alterman doesn’t keep the funny coming fast enough and instead tries to inject some heart into the plot. But scenes like those between Monix and lady love Lynn (Maura Tierney) fall flat. Harrelson plays the straight man too straight, and Tierney is even straighter. We care little for their relationship because they’re just so gosh darn boring. Michael Cera proved in “Superbad” that the straight man can be funny too, but Harrelson’s performance evokes little laughter in “Semi-Pro.”

Of course, every comedy has bright spots. André Benjamin of Outkast makes a refreshing appearance as a funky NBA-wannabe trapped on a terrible basketball team. Comedians Will Arnett and Andrew Daly are brilliant as the loyal Tropics radio announcers and television show hosts. Arnett’s Lou Redwood always has a drink in his hand as Daly’s Dick Pepperfield does most of the real announcing. Daly’s humor is so dry and spot on, that at times we forget that he’s an actor and not a real sportscaster.

However, just like the Tropics play like a second string high school basketball team, the cast appears to be a collection of second string players from the Will Ferrell and Judd Apatow gangs. With star players Paul Rudd and Steve Carell moving on to bigger and better projects, Ferrell is left with people like Rob Corddry and Andy Richter. While there is no doubt that these comedians are absolutely hilarious, “Semi-Pro” does little to demonstrate their comedic talent. These actors will have to keep on trying to find their “Anchorman” since Alterman never quite lets them shine.

“Semi-Pro” can make no claims of brilliance; it’s meat and potatoes comedy, Will Ferrell-style. True fans of Ferrell will appreciate his performance, but those looking for a good movie won’t find it here. “Semi-Pro” could have used more over-the-top, ridiculous situations and less realism and heart. After all, one of the funniest scenes in the movie features Jackie Moon dressed as a giant sun and the rest of the team donning sea horse and flamingo costumes, rehearsing for the pre-show entertainment. All the while a serious conversation is taking place as the players look like they’re about to hop on a float at a bowl game parade. It’s ludicrous, but it works. Unfortunately, “Semi-Pro” mainly shows that Ferrell’s brand of comedy may be running out of steam.