Friday, March 28, 2008


Semi-Pro is the creakiest, clunkiest Will Ferrell comedy in years. It reminded me of a cross between a wheezy, unfunny slapstick clown show and a leaden, cliched soap opera. If those two descriptions don't seem to mesh well based on the trailers and advertisements you've seen, don't be short-sighted, dear reader--this film is capable of peddling more bullshit than you even imagined.

Semi-Pro suffers from chronic cinematic schizophrenia. Will Ferrell plays Jackie Moon, the player/coach/owner of a fading ABA team who, as the NBA/ABA merger looms on the horizon, is desperate for his team to make the jump. Ferrell is pretty funny, just because Ferrell is always funny, even if the material sucks. But in a film with so many conflicting desires, he is just one misplaced cog in a rusty machine.

While Ferrell is playing to the back row, Woody Harrelson is doing something a little different--I think he was shipped in from another movie entirely. He plays a washed-up former NBA star who has a bad temper and who is trying to reconnect with his ex-wife (Maura Tierney). Their scenes together reminded me of melodramatic highlights of Thirtysomething (though they are clearly more like fortysomething). The only element placed in this sideplot that connects it to the rest of the low-brow movie is the placement of the Tierney character's current husband, who idolizes Harrelson to the point that he wants to watch his wife have sex with him. Ha ha.

Semi-Pro was directed by newbie Kent Alterman in what has to be one of the most inauspicious directorial debuts in recent history. Alterman formerly worked as an executive producer on films like Little Children and A History of Violence...and also films like Mr. Woodcock and Son of the Mask. Based on this directorial effort, I can make an educated guess as to which of those films Alterman was most passionate about.

Most disappointing about Semi-Pro is that I actually like to laugh at these kind of movies. Anchorman, for me, still ranks as probably the funniest purely absurb piece of slapstick cinema since The Naked Gun. Talladega Nights was pretty great, too. But hell, even Will Ferrell's recent Budweiser commercials as Jackie Moon were funnier than this movie.


Vigilante said...

I saw a headline in the last few weeks pointing to a story that makes the point that there has never been a good movie about the NBA. There are a wealth of films about the NFL and MLB, but not about big time basketball. Any thoughts?

J McKiernan said...

Yeah, definitely not a lot of good movies--and actually, not a lot of movies at all--about the NBA. I started thinking about it, and actually couldn't come up with that many films centering on basketball at all, and the ones I did come up with were not about the NBA...a lot of people like "Hoosiers," and I think it's, ya know...okay...but not about pros. I really liked "Blue Chips," but that was about the ins-and-outs of corruption of the college game.

Of movies about the NBA, there is certainly a great, great paucity. I remember "Eddie," the one with Whoopi Goldberg coaching the Knicks...that was good for a one-note, half-a-laugh premise. Uh, what else? "Space Jam," Michael Jordan's brilliant acting debut, where he shared the screen with Bugs Bunny? As with a lot of Looney Tunes material, it was fun enough...but obviously wasn't a serious film about professional basketball.

What else? "Juwanna Mann," the one about the NBA star who gets booted for bad behavior, and in turn decides to dress up in drag and join the WNBA...ha ha ha.

There are several documentary shorts and features about basketball players from Pistol Pete to Yao Ming. The most documented of them all is obviously Michael Jordan, who has had many docs and mini-docs made about him (one of them, centering on Nike contracts and promotional work, was actually titled, "I Gonna Fuck You Back to the Stoneage." Now there is a descriptive and accurate title if I've ever seen one.

As for movies surrounding basketball in one way or another..."White Men Can't Jump" is always well-liked. "He Got Game" is one of Spike Lee's better films, even if it at times falls victim to some of the director's nagging preoccupations (sexism being chief among them).

For me, the best film about basketball is not really about basketball at all, but about the machinery of basketball, and the lives of two aspiring players--"Hoop Dreams," the great documentary that set a tone for all portrait documentaries that came after it.

A great film can be made about the NBA--probably many great films could be made about the NBA. But when will it happen? Your guess is as good as mine.

A very interesting question is, simply, "why?" Why is the NBA not prominently featured in films? I mean, there was a Dodgeball movie, for God's sake! Why is the NBA not a major script-producer?

btdill said...

I find this line quite interesting: "Semi-Pro is the creakiest, clunkiest Will Ferrell comedy in years." I'm not quite sure if you can really use the phrase "in years" when Will Ferrell has only been acting in movies for about ten years and has only really started to get popular herr within the past five or so years. I mean, Anchorman would probably be considered the first "Will Ferrell comedy", and it only just came out in 2004.

J McKiernan said...

Thanks for your expertise, btdill...though I hardly need a reminder of how long Will Ferrell has been in movies. are the first of a certain kind of blog commenter that I have come across during the short existence of this little venture of ours: the kind who likes to comment purely to sink the writer's boat. You brought nothing remotely interesting or new to the just wanted to float your "superiority" and leave.

So congratulations, you the first boat sinker in Cinema Squared history. I honestly thought someone like you would happen sooner.

If we want to get into an incredibly geeky battle of preciseness, Ferrell has been funny in movies for...well, years. Though not the primary star, he started appearing in successful comedies in the mid-to-late 1990s, starting with the first "Austin Powers" movie, and carrying on through films like "Zoolander," "Dick," and "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back." Not all of the movies were great in and of themselves, but some of them were very good, and Ferrell played a crucial role in making them good.

"Old School" in '03, though a shared lead, was a big stepping stone for Ferrell. It had his stamp all over it. And "Elf", also in '03, would probably be the first "official" Will Ferrell comedy--not "Anchorman."

And by the way, saying "creakiest and clunkiest" does not mean worst. That would be "Kicking and Screaming," which is a hallmark of awfulness. "Semi-Pro" is merely lazy, tired, and...creaky and clunky. And I haven't seen Ferrell resting on his laurels like this in, yes, years. Not even in "Bewitched"...not even in "Blades of Glory."