Not to sound harsh, but if it were any funnier, “Blades of Glory” would be the look on Nancy Kerrigan’s face the moment her dreams — and kneecap — were crushed by a Tanya Harding hireling. Like another cherished MTV Films production (“Election”), it wears the mark of irreverent, half-grown-up humor like a new tattoo — often fully displayed, but subtly covered up when the parentals might disapprove.
But Will Ferrell loyalists have nothing to fear — “Blades” is very much a frat-friendly, beer-bellied display of physical comedy and lovably childish banter (“You look like a 15-year-old girl, only not hot”). The basic difference between it and, say, “Anchorman” is that “Blades” has something for those who need a little more than a cigarette-lighter and a can of hairspray to be entertained. The film is constantly on its feet — flipping expectations, twisting ironies out of that strange world of “winter sports” and waltz-jumping around issues ranging from homophobia to hair-care with a measured mix of grace and spunk.
Ferrell plays bad-ass ice-divo Chazz Michael Michaels, a man whose street-learned skating skills and improvisational aesthetic have won him the coveted Kristi Yamaguchi Lifetime Achievement Award and headlines that herald him as the best thing to hit figure skating since sequined nylon. His cherubic rival Jimmy MacElroy (played by Napolean Dynamite himself Jon Heder), is a classically trained “athlete” groomed to sparkling perfection by his adopted father’s billions. Forced to share a gold medal at the World Championships, “Fire” and “Ice” fight it out in a dirty brawl that results in their immediate and permanent excommunication from the men’s singles competition.
Nearly four years later, when the two has-beens cross paths at a pseudo-“Disney on Ice” event, their subsequent, seemingly choreographed smack down gives Coach (Craig T. Nelson of TV’s “Coach”) the idea to enter them as the first-ever male-on-male team in the pairs division. Faced with anti-gay backlash (from the, you know, otherwise completely heterosexual figure-skating fan base) and the awkward problem of sorting out “who’s the ‘girl’ ” (as if it weren’t already obvious), Chazz and Jimmy try to settle their differences so they can master a gold-medal routine in time for the championships.
Some of the funniest scenes in “Blades” involve the pair’s biggest competition — brother-sister duo Stranz and Fairchild Van Waldenberg (played wonderfully by real-life spouses Will Arnett and Amy Poehler). The oddly affectionate Van Waldenbergs heat up the competition by wearing insane costumes (a JFK and Marilyn duet called “Forbidden Love,” for example) and persuading their sister Katie (Jenna Fischer) to cheat for them. Arnett and Poehler, whether straddling a polar-bear rug or cruelly exploiting personal tragedy to sway Katie, really do make the most of their lovably absurd villains.
While “Blades of Glory” has (undeservedly) attracted criticism for somehow reinforcing American standards of masculinity by poking fun at Heder’s effete mannerisms and girly outfits, it ought to be noted that Ferrell’s character receives just as many jeers for his taco-meat-blanketed trucker’s tummy and use of horse shampoo. “Blades,” if it seeks to cut anyone down, succeeds best when it stabs at the ridiculously self-serious and fake — just the kind of douchebags who would err by taking issue with the film’s non-agenda.
Those same douchebags would also be the ones most likely to ignore the film’s surprising, even touching, sincerity. When Chazz and Jimmy stand for the first time as a pair in front of a hostile and discriminating crowd, their poignant mix of embarrassment and defiance is experienced with more than a little nervousness. But a familiar song starts to play — Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” — and, as their hands meet for the first time, they ease into a kind of mutual comfort. And when Jimmy falters, scraping across the ice into a wall, one feels just how high the stakes are — for them, and for male pairs everywhere.
It’s as though, when Coach says to Chazz and Jimmy, “Maybe underneath all your bullshit we can still find something beautiful,” he’s not just talking about their struggle to get along, but the movie as a whole — a movie that embeds in its goofy, snow-cone-loving exterior a bit of heart worth holding onto.
“Mind-bottling,” isn’t it?