SEMI-PRO is a title that is more than apt for the film to which it is attached. It is a work made up of random bits and pieces in which Will Ferrell has been wedged into an insipid sports story. There is no discernible attempt to make the two disparate elements, Ferrell’s absurdity and the cliché-ridden underdog tale, meld in any meaningful way. Instead, the cloying if manly sentimentality of athletes coming to terms with success and failure drifts along punctuated with random bouts of lunacy that has its own problems with hits and misses.
Ferrell coasts along one what is now his trademark persona, the big dumb guy, sensitive yet arrogant, with all the emotional maturity of a three-year-old. Not that Ferrell can’t milk this character for all it’s worth given the right material. This is not the right material.
Said material casts him as Jackie Moon, owner, coach, and player of and for the Flint Tropics, an ABA team in 1970s that is about to be either disbanded or absorbed into the NBA. Not that he’s much on actual strategy, or his team on actually winning. His forte is promotion, hence the team dresses up as seahorses and flamingos for half-times shows choreographed by Moon, the one-hit disco wonder who inflicts that one-hit, “Love Sexy,” during the pre-game show on the few fans who turn out. Desperate to save the franchise, he trades the team’s washing machine for Monix (Woody Harrelson) a former NBA player with a trick knee and a torch for Lynn (Maura Tierney) the girl he left behind in Flint. He also brings out the worst in the team’s only competent player (Andre Benjamin), a player with a proud mother and a penchant for changing his name.
Some of Ferrell’s schtick works, some doesn’t. The former would be when he’s working just out of Moon’s perceived depth, which is most things, such as fretting over free corndogs for the fans, doing an Evil Knievel stunt involving roller skates and the team’s ball girls, or dueling Dewey the killer bear in a desperate attempt to draw crowds. The latter would be the repetitive tantrums Moon throws with appalling regularity, or a bit with a gun that isn’t supposed to be loaded. As for the extended crotch shot of him in his teeny tiny basketball shorts, the less said the better, that the healing might begin.
Harrelson and Benjamin seem to be in another film altogether, the sappy sports one. Their entire interaction about whether or not Monix earned the championship ring he wears is a testosterone soap opera without the irony. Monix’s romance with Lynn is enlivened only by Rob Corddry as her husband, Monix’s biggest fan who not only doesn’t mind Monix courting his wife, he actually grooves on it. The only sure bet in the entire flick are Will Arnett and Andrew Daly as the snarky Tropics announcers, who spend more time sniping at each other, the team, and the fans with the coolest of broadcasting tones than actually reporting the plays. And, to be honest, there is something intrinsically and wildly funny about the team mascot, a 10-foot sequined palm tree teetering uncertainly as the guy in the costume gamely soldiers on.
With all the rich fodder that is a 70s period piece, astonishingly little is used. A fondue joke, Ferrell’s parti-colored afro, and a puka shell necklace, only one of which actually garners a laugh. Another waste is Jackie Earl Haley, so brilliant in last year’s LITTLE CHILDREN, who bobs in and out here as an addled and shirtless vagrant with even less smarts than Jackie but a tenacious, gung-ho attitude.
SEMI-PRO is a product of bad writing, imprudent editing, or an unfortunate combination of the two. It misses the point entirely of what a spoof is, offering sporadic chuckles and a whole lot of disappointment for what should have been a slam dunk.