Will Ferrell’s latest is just silly — and obnoxious — enough to work.


Will Ferrell has arrived in that rarified dimension of comedy that Arnold Schwarzenegger reached in action flicks 20 years ago, in which the titles of his films are mere filler below the star's name. He's just “Will Ferrell in” a racing movie (“Talladega Nights”) or a figure-skating movie (“Blades of Glory”). The new “Semi-Pro” is Will Ferrell in a basketball movie, and while it's packed with the usual Ferrell fare — a free-throw line's view of Ferrell in '70s-era short shorts is a real eye-burner — he at least turns in a performance that doesn't beg for him to be taken out back and slapped.

Ferrell is Jackie Moon, an egotistical yet sincere soul singer who parlayed the earnings from his No. 1 hit “Love Me Sexy” into ownership of the Flint Tropics, a (made-up) American Basketball Association team. Despite pneumatic cheerleaders, free corn dog promotions and an owner who can pull down 30 rebounds starting at power forward drunk (somewhere, Mark Cuban sighs dreamily), the team is in last place and on the brink of bankruptcy.

The story picks up in the middle of the 1976 season, when the National Basketball Association merged with the ABA; in this version of events, Moon proposes that the four teams to make the jump to the NBA be the best four in the league. Thus granted a shot at joining the richer NBA, he trades the team's washing machine to get weathered ex-Celtics benchwarmer Ed Monix (Woody Harrelson), the only real basketball player of the bunch, who clashes with the only real athlete of the lot, Clarence Coffee Black, portrayed by a lavishly Afro'd André Benjamin, who very much fits the part so long as he doesn't look down at the ball while he dribbles it.

Critical to the rest of the movie's surprising success is its R rating, allowing the script to rescue itself with profanity and vice whenever it sags toward sports-movie cliche. For instance, first-time director Kent Alterman pulls off an unexpectedly tense version of a Russian roulette game at a poker table — sort of a cross between the denouement of “The Deer Hunter” and the gas-fight scene in “Zoolander.” That scene reaches its only sensible punchline, as does a later cage match between Moon and a “killer bear” meant to goose attendance. The bear breaks free in the full arena, as any comedic bear must. Still, Moon screaming to the panicked audience — “There will be no refunds! Your refund will be escaping this death trap with your life!” — tickles a little.

Likewise, you pretty much know where the Tropics are headed when they set out to capture fourth place, but the ride is still gratifyingly silly. Moon is the sort of Bill Veeck-style promoter who used to thrive in sports before cable TV turned pro games into homogenized yogurt. The Tropics' radio broadcasters swill scotch and chain-smoke courtside; in a brawl, Monix tears into an opposing player with a series of sharp jabs to the kidneys; and the arrival of the alley-oop qualifies as a veritable deus ex machina. Just stupid enough to make up for being so obnoxious, and vice-versa, “Semi-Pro” at least has the sense to milk a dead basketball league for all the yuks it was worth.

Sam Eifling



Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Sam Eifling

  • Fear and wonder

    'Arrival' makes room for 'linguistic relativity.'
    • Nov 16, 2016
  • Sip it, grip it, rip it

    Dardanelle golf legend John Daly's story next up in ESPN's '30 for 30' series.
    • Oct 27, 2016
  • 'Seven' keeps it simple

    Antoine Fuqua's remake formulaic, but still a crowd-pleaser.
    • Sep 29, 2016
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Gay diamonds

    Scenes from Rodeo in the Rock.
    • May 7, 2015
  • Not much to 'Love'

    In Judd Apatow's new Netflix original series.
    • Feb 25, 2016

Most Shared

  • World leaders set to meet in Little Rock on resource access and sustainable development

    Little Rock will next week host a series of meetings on the use of technology to tackle global problems led by Club de Madrid — a coalition of more than 100 former democratic former presidents and prime ministers from around the world — and the P80 Group, a coalition of large public pension and sovereign wealth funds founded by Prince Charles to combat climate change.
  • Rapert compares Bill Clinton to Orval Faubus

    Sen. Jason Rapert (R-Conway)  was on "Capitol View" on KARK, Channel 4, this morning, and among other things that will likely inspire you to yell at your computer screen, he said he expects someone in the legislature to file a bill to do ... something about changing the name of the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport.

Latest in Movie Reviews

Visit Arkansas

View Trumpeter Swans in Heber Springs

View Trumpeter Swans in Heber Springs

Magness Lake, in Heber Springs, is a magnet for swans

Event Calendar

« »


  1 2 3
4 5 6 7 8 9 10
11 12 13 14 15 16 17
18 19 20 21 22 23 24
25 26 27 28 29 30 31

Most Viewed


© 2016 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation