It's starting to become a tradition, something to usher in the spring movie season: the Not Quite Will Ferrell Movie. It looks like a Will Ferrell movie. It smells like a Will Ferrell movie. And judging by all the trailers and ads you see of Will Ferrell hamming it up, you suspect that it's completely a Will Ferrell movie.
But, when you finally see it, you learn the sad truth: It's not quite a Will Ferrell movie.
It happened last year around this time, with Ferrell goofing around homoerotically on a pair of ice skates with Napoleon Dynamite in the half-cocked "Blades of Glory." Now, he slips on a mushroom afro and extremely short shorts to nut up on the basketball court in the aptly titled "Semi-Pro."
Ferrell once again finds a sports legend (in his own mind, of course) in Jackie Moon, owner/coach/least valuable player of the Flint Tropics, the most pitiful -- and fake -- team of the once-real American Basketball Association. When the fledgling basketball association is about to fold and a handful of its most winning and successful teams are about to slide into the NBA, Moon attempts to pull out all the stops to make sure his team also survives. Luckily, Moon is the kind of huckster willing to fight a live bear if that means putting some behinds in seats and saving his players.
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You get a sense that "Semi-Pro" is set in the boogie nights of the '70s not just so the filmmakers can mine easy laughs out of the gaudy wardrobe choices, tacky hairstyles and ridiculous slang. (Yes, "jive turkey" makes its presence known.) "Semi-Pro" is practically a throwback to such gleefully foul-mouthed sports comedies as "Slap Shot" and "The Bad News Bears," where a ragtag team of outcasts and nobodies becomes a well-oiled victory machine. The movie often seems like that, with Woody Harrelson as a washed-up former Boston Celtic who comes in and teaches these crude, lewd losers (which includes OutKast's Andre Benjamin as the team's hotshot star player) a thing or two about playing the game, and Ferrell occasionally popping up to do his unhinged, confident-buffoon shtick.
This makes "Semi-Pro" something of a schizoid comedy, a film that doesn't know whether to play it completely broad or play it with some heart or soul. At times, Ferrell almost appears to be to this movie what John Belushi's "Bluto" Blutarsky was to "Animal House": a welcome yet ultimately superfluous component to the story.
Debut director Kent Alterman does what he can surrounding Ferrell and the stars with some of the funniest supporting players working in the business today (Will Arnett, Andy Richter, DeRay Davis, Kristen Wiig, half the guys who served as correspondents on "The Daily Show"). But since they're all working from another aimless script from Scot Armstrong, who gave us both "School for Scoundrels" and that miserable remake of "The Heartbreak Kid," it's almost amazing that they score some laughs out of the material they were given.
As for Ferrell, I'm not going to hold this flick against him. Besides, he's still got "Step Brothers," co-written by him and his "Anchorman"/FunnyOrDie.com collaborator, director Adam McKay, coming out in July. So, there's a good chance this may be the Very Will Ferrell Movie we need to make us forget this film.