I 've been worried that this day was coming; I knew if Will Ferrell wasn't careful his gloriously fat, semi-nude body wouldn't be enough to make me laugh anymore. I was hoping "Semi-Pro" would breathe some hilarity back into Ferrell's filmography. Instead, it brought the day I've been dreading painfully into the present.
Perhaps what makes "Semi-Pro" especially disappointing is that there are some funny elements to the story, and the premise is promising. Jackie Moon (Ferrell) is a one-hit wonder in the '70s-funk music era. He's got money to burn. He chooses to burn it by buying his hometown (Flint, Mich.) semi-pro basketball team, the Flint Tropics. Jackie is an owner, coach, player, pre-game announcer and half-time entertainment coordinator -- a rare breed. The team, and its league, are failing. So when the National Basketball Association agrees to absorb four teams at the end of the season, it gives the Tropics something to play for. And, at least on paper, it gives the movie something to drive it forward. Instead, though, "Semi-Pro" just goes through the motions without any real highlights.
Ferrell has his moments, as only he can. There's a scene midway through when Moon has to find a way to keep the attendance up in order to keep the Tropics under NBA consideration. His idea? Fight a bear. And I'm sorry, but no matter how dumb it is, watching a terrified Moon karate chop a bear - as he slowly gains confidence the bear isn't going to do anything - is funny. Ferrell's in his element in scenes like this one. There just aren't that many in "Semi-Pro."
The rest of the cast is talented, but I'm not sure the casting director should be patting him- or herself on the back. The overall chemistry isn't there. Will Arnett, who plays the Tropic's foulmouthed color commentator, is always good but he's underused. Andre 3 Million (or whatever his name is, you know ... the guy from OutKast) seems like he's improving as an actor but he is out of place in a Ferrell vehicle. Woody Harrelson, too, is miscast. Or maybe the whole lot just was unsure how to go about their scenes. The end result, though, is a feeling that nobody around Ferrell is comfortable.
In the end, the Tropics predictably go nowhere while of course growing together as a team and everyone is better for it. There is nothing even remotely intelligent about the script. Normally, that is OK because Ferrell has you laughing so hard you feel like the Diet Coke you drank is going to force you to choose between wetting yourself or leaving the auditorium for a minute to pee. And Ferrell's so funny you actually ponder that decision! "Semi-Pro" is not one of those films.
Instead, it dwells on the bottom rung of Ferrell films with "Kicking and Screaming," which is exactly what I'll be doing if Ferrell doesn't turn the funny back on. A film world without a funny Will Ferrell is not one I'm eager to explore.
Read Carson's movie blog at www.juneaublogger.com/movies.