Historically, there has been a recipe for the success of a Will Ferrell movie: Cast Will Ferrell as an overly self-confident success story with a low IQ, mix in a hilarious nemesis, add a group of mentally challenged allies and screen for up to two hours. Should serve an audience of millions.
However, the most critical component of the recipe — a supporting cast — is left out of “Semi-Pro,” resulting in a half-baked 90-minute muted chuckle.
The movie begins with great promise, as the audience is warmed up by previews for the upcoming spy comedy “Get Smart” and the promising “Harold and Kumar: Escape from Guantanamo Bay.” Then, as the lights dim and the final subliminal popcorn advertisement plays, the excitement for hours of comedy begins.
Excitement then turns to a knot in the audience’s stomach as the movie opens with Jackie Moon (Will Ferrell) singing his ’70s dance hit, “Love Me Sexy,” which is as funny to read as it is to hear. The audience is left waiting for something really funny to happen.
Fear continues to grow as the audience is introduced to the rest of their captors — the Flint Tropics. They are the losing team of the American Basketball Association (ABA), with roughly 50 fans in attendance for their home games. However, they are inexplicably cast as sullen jerks rather than lovable losers, and not one of them has a comedic bone in his body. The team even lacks the quintessential fat-guy-who-farts-for-laughs essential to every sports comedy.
The primary conflict is soon revealed: Most of the ABA, including the Flint Tropics, will be dissolved at the end of the current season. After a Will Ferrell temper tantrum, it is resolved that the top-four teams in the league will survive as part of the NBA, and the Tropics must somehow battle their way to fourth place, up against stiff competition from the Spurs, Nuggets, Nets and Pacers.
Which one of these is not like the others? Even casual sports fans know which of these five teams ultimately end up in the NBA, so the ending to the main plot thread is already a foregone conclusion. Perhaps hoping to spice things up, there is a random romance between the recently acquired Tropic, Monix (Woody Harrelson) and a local Flint woman whom he apparently once ditched to partake in a menage a trois.
However, just like the rest of the characters, the audience has no reason to care about this doomed couple, and the screen time for the romance tangent takes away from the funnier parts of the movie.
There are admittedly some funny scenes. The dynamic duo of the Tropics announcers, straight-laced straight man Dick Pepperfield (Andrew Daly) and chain-smoking, drunken Lou Redwood (Will Arnett) provide outstanding performances whenever they can, but that’s usually only during game time. Their hijinks steal every scene they’re in.
Also a pleasant surprise is the appearance of some of my comedic favorites from the old sketch comedy show the Upright Citizens Brigade, Matt Walsh and Ian Roberts. It’s good to see these funny guys finding work outside Domino’s commercials. (You are likely familiar with another UCB alum, Amy Poehler, who went on to Saturday Night Live.)
“Semi-Pro” deviates from the recipe in failing to provide Will Ferrell with sufficient comedic support, and as a result, the audience is forced to sit through 90 minutes of Will Ferrell acting zany, desperately trying to fabricate some laughter. Perhaps to help, this film was rated R solely for the purpose of raining F-bombs to minimal comedic effect. It’s true that a well placed cuss can be hilarious, as South Park has proven time and time again, but here it is just another annoyance. Hopefully, this will mark the end of Will Ferrell’s time in historic comedies, as the joke has worn thin. The 1970s plaids aren’t especially flattering to his figure, either.