Mar 052008
 
Authors: Jeff Schwartz

Will Ferrell has made his career out of playing the self-absorbed, self-righteous ass.

It’s a persona he plays well; his performances worked brilliantly in the films he co-wrote with Adam McKay (“Anchorman” and “Talladega Nights”), and it buoyed “Blades of Glory,” making what would have otherwise been a competent comedy into something memorable.

With “Semi-Pro,” the classic Ferrell persona returns in the character of Jackie Moon, a former disco singer from Michigan who uses the money he earned from his one hit, the hilarious “Love Me Sexy,” which is sung over the opening credits – to buy a minor-league basketball team called the Flint Tropics.

Though Ferrell gives it his all, “Semi-Pro” isn’t quite as good as the aforementioned comedies, if only because those films gave Ferrell better foils to work against – including Steve Carell and John C. Reilly. The film does, though, boast some good laughs, so if you enjoy Ferrell, you will enjoy “Semi-Pro.”

Jackie Moon is not only the owner of the Tropics, he is also the head coach and the star player. He is, unfortunately, chronically deficient in the skills necessary for any of these roles, and so it’s no surprise that the Tropics are the worst team in the American Basketball Association.

However, when NBA decides to absorb the best teams from the ABA, Jackie is motivated to whip the Tropics into shape, which includes bringing a washed-up NBA star named Monix (Woody Harrelson) to play on the team.

The film’s laughs are sometimes sporadic, but when they hit, they hit hard. The lyrics to “Love Me Sexy” – which include “Baby . let’s get sweaty . /I’m talking rainforest-sweaty/I’m talking swamp-sweaty/Let’s fill the bathtub full of sweat” – are almost enough to recommend the film all on their own.

There’s also a great scene during a poker game when Lou Redwood (Will Arnett), one of the Tropics’ announcers, is called a “jive turkey” and he explodes into a fit of rage.

And I loved nearly all the scenes with Dick Pepperfield (Andrew Daly), the Tropics’ preternaturally amiable co-announcer.

What works less well is Harrelson’s character, who the script burdens with a serious storyline involving his attempts to regain athletic honor and win back his wife (Maura Tierney).

There’s nothing inherently funny about these scenes, and since “Semi-Pro” is a comedy, the scenes should have been cut, or replaced with something more befitting of the film’s wild and raunchy tone.

Despite this gripe, “Semi-Pro,” works because it is funny, simple as that. The film doesn’t reach the heights of some of Ferrell’s previous comedies, but his new film “Step-Brothers” (which he scripted with McKay, and which co-stars John C. Reilly), due out this summer, looks like it could recapture the manic magic of Ferrell’s best films.

Staff writer Jeff Schwarz can be reached at verve@collegian.com.

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