Will Ferrell is a funny guy. So is Will Arnett, his frequent co-star. But their latest collaboration, Semi-Pro, is comical only because it makes the cast look foolish for the entire 90-minute running time. With a main character whose white man Afro upstages the rest of the cast and an underdog plot meant to mock other sports movies, Semi-Pro leaves the audience bored instead of entertained.
Taking place in 1976, the movie centers around the Flint Michigan Tropics, the worst team in the American Basketball Association. The team is owned and coached by Jackie Moon (Ferrell), a one-hit wonder with the song "Love Me Sexy," who also happens to be the team's starting guard. When it is announced that the ABA will merge with more reputable National Basketball Association and take only the top four teams with it, Moon resolves to move his team into fourth place in spite of their obvious lack of skill and fan support.
Semi-Pro aims to make the battle for fourth place humorous, since the Tropics are so terrible, but its attempts at laughs are just embarrassing to watch. The players can barely throw a paper towel into the trashcan, let alone put a basketball through a hoop. In order to gain a competitive advantage, Moon trades the team washing machine for former NBA benchwarmer Ed Monix, played with absolutely zero appeal by Woody Harrelson.
Over the course of the movie, Moon tries to attract crowds by doing everything from roller-skating over cheerleaders to wrestling a grizzly bear, but the bottom line is that the Tropics are terrible and neither the fans in Michigan, nor the audience in the theatre, really wants to watch them lose repeatedly.
One problem with Semi-Pro is that Will Ferrell chose to star in another movie set in the 1970s after making Anchorman, a much more original and funny film with a stronger supporting cast. When asked why he chose to make another film about the decade, he cited the subject manner in an interview with The Beacon.
"The setting is a by-product of the fact that it's about the ABA," Ferrell said. Although he had no plans to make multiple films about the age of disco, Ferrell still enjoys the decade.
"I think the '70s are intrinsically funny," he said, referring to the na'veteacute; of people during those years, especially with regards to fashion. If only Ferrell weren't so na've as to assume that audiences really wanted to see him in a periwinkle leisure suit.
The question now is how someone as successfully goofy as Ferrell could bomb so terribly in this movie. He and Arnett, who plays the alcoholic and cynical Tropics commentator Lou Redwood, had the group of reporters in hysterics as they made fun of each other and their characters. They earned the biggest laugh describing their first day on the set. According to Ferrell, "I walked in and said 'This smells like Major League with a touch of Tin Cup.'" Sadly, this improvised humor hardly translated onscreen.
When asked about how he sustains interest in long-form comedies, Ferrell admits that he relies on his supporting cast, which in this film is hard to do.
"You have to take advantage of the fact that you have a great ensemble that is comfortable with improvising," he said. To this, Arnett responded with a sarcastic, "Take advantage of? I'm really feeling the love here!"
Arnett's commentary is the most amusing part of the film but the rest of the cast allows Ferrell to roll over them. The worst is Andre Benjamin, from the hip-hop group Outkast, who plays a forward alternatley known as Clarence Withers, Downtown Funky Stuff Malone and Coffee Black. Not only does he lack comic timing and any semblance of presence, his only skill when it comes to basketball is his height. He might be a Grammy winner but he belongs in the studio, not on the screen.
Harrelson is another cast member whose blatant lack of comedic skills drags down the movie; he might have been able to elicit chuckles twenty years ago on Cheers but when his character has no purpose other than to encourage the team to stop sucking, he seriously falters.
The movie rests on Ferrell's portrayal of Moon and, without the sturdy foundation of a hilarious supporting cast, Semi-Pro collapses. With no challenge from the rest of the cast, Ferrell is larger than life in all ways: one example is Moon's frightening fro which took Ferrell half a year to grow. As his character consumes more and more of the movie, it becomes more lackluster. You can only see a close-up of him squatting in tiny shorts before you begin to feel ill, or at the very least, bored. With these slightly horrifying images, the script is the movie's last resort, but it too falls flat.
Overall, the cast of Semi-Pro is unable to adapt their off-screen chemistry and humor to the bland characters created by first-time director Kent Alterman and screenwriter Scot Armstrong. For the cast's benefit, they should return to their more successful careers on TV and quit making movies as pointless and blatantly unfunny as Semi-Pro.