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Dustin Putman

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Semi-Pro  (2008)
Directed by Kent Alterman
Cast: Will Ferrell, Woody Harrelson, André Benjamin, Maura Tierney, DeRay Davis, Josh Braaten, Jay Phillips, Peter Cornell, Andy Richter, Andrew Daly, Will Arnett, David Koechner, Jackie Earle Haley, Rob Corddry, Kate Luyben, Tim Meadows, Matt Walsh, Pat Kilbane, Ella English, Patti LaBelle, Kristen Wiig, Jerry Minor, Charlyne Yi, Paul Rust, Collete Wolfe.
2008 – 90 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for language and sexual content).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, February 15, 2008.
A pitiful sports comedy that comes strikingly close to not getting any laughs at all, "Semi-Pro" is, thus far, the nadir in Will Ferrell's career as a leading man. 2003's "Elf," 2004's "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy," 2005's "Kicking & Screaming," 2006's "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby," 2007's "Blades of Glory"—a hit-and-miss filmography, to be sure, but every one of those movies had at least something intermittently clever or humorous to offer. "Semi-Pro" does not. This is desperate, lazy, pedestrian filmmaking, and the fact that inauspicious first-time director Kent Alterman and screenwriter Scot Armstrong (2007's "The Heartbreak Kid") have wasted a perfectly good R-rating only makes it more of a missed opportunity. Save for a smattering of four-letter words and a couple minor sexual references, the film has the juvenile mindframe of a 10-year-old.

In economically starved Flint, Michigan, circa 1976, afro-wearing Jackie Moon (Will Ferrell) is a one-time singer who now is the owner-coach-player of the American Basketball Association's middling Flint Tropics. When it is revealed that a merger is imminent and the top four regional basketball teams are to be upgraded to the NBA, Jackie and his teammates—among them, ex-champ Monix (Woody Harrelson), hotshot Clarence Coffee Black (André Benjamin), and characteristics-free Bee Bee Ellis (DeRay Davis) and Twiggy (Josh Braaten)—set out to make the impossible come true and win one of those spots.

One scene stands out in "Semi-Pro"—a game of Russian Roulette with a supposedly empty handgun that gets increasingly chancy and dangerous—and that is the end of the positively notable moments. Otherwise, the film follows a tired, tedious, barely connected narrative that sticks to the conventions of the sports genre and fills in the downtime with set-pieces that are embarrassingly lead-footed. Watch Jackie wrestle a bear! Watch him toss a basketball from an unflattering low angle that captures little more than his crotch! Watch him throw a fit at a board meeting! Watch him growl at the opposing team while wearing black eyeliner! Watch everyone say naughty curse words! The comedy in "Semi-Pro" gets no better than this, and the results are depressing. Even the finale, set at the Mega Bowl Championship, is an afterthought that goes nowhere.

With Jackie Moon, Will Ferrell has gone to the well one too many times, portraying virtually the same character he played in "Anchorman" and "Talladega Nights." Looking tired and strung out, Ferrell is way off his game here and hardly seems to be trying. As Monix, Woody Harrelson (2007's "No Country for Old Men") is wasted with a dull character that gets a lot of screen time but hasn't anything of interest to say or do. A subplot revolving around him and ex-girlfriend Lynn (Maura Tierney) is empty beyond words and pointless besides, basically an excuse to tack on ten minutes to the running time. As Lynn, Maura Tierney (2004's "Welcome to Mooseport") would have been wise to sit this one out; what could have possibly drawn her to this non-entity of a role? The rest of the cast aren't worth mentioning, though Will Arnett (2007's "The Brothers Solomon") does show a touch of potential as a smarmy, chain-smoking commentator.

Die-hard fans of Will Ferrell will be clamoring to see "Semi-Pro." My advice? Don't. Stay home and watch any of his other past films, all of which are more worthwhile than this monotonously unfunny tripe. "Semi-Pro" is not only expendable, but so slight that it almost doesn't appear to exist at all. The mind boggles how anyone involved thought this project was in shape enough to not only be shot, but also released.
© 2008 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman