It’s not really a surprise that Will Ferrell is once again recycling his overconfident-doofus persona in service of a wacky sports movie (following Talladega Nights and Blades of Glory), nor that he’s also returned to a 1970s setting (à la Anchorman) to get easy laughs from goofy outfits and hairstyles. What’s worked for him before will undoubtedly work again, at least at the box office, but what is disappointing is that Ferrell has already descended so far into laziness, relying heavily on formula and failing to show any of the range that he’s demonstrated in films as diverse as Stranger Than Fiction, Elf and Zoolander.
Instead, he’s another obliviously cocky sports hero entirely unsuited for athletics—in this case disco one-hit wonder Jackie Moon, who used his music royalties to buy up an ABA basketball team in Flint, Michigan, and install himself as both the coach and the star player. With attendance barely in the double digits and a team full of lovable losers who aren’t exactly great basketball players, the Flint Tropics have only one chance to make it into the NBA as it absorbs the struggling ABA: become one of the top four teams in the league, and get attendance above 2,000 by the time the league commissioner pays a visit.
It’s your classic sports-underdog formula, and the script by Scot Armstrong never deviates from it. Jackie brings in the requisite washed-up former great (Harrelson) to turn the team around, and everything eventually hinges on one big game. What laughs there are come from the absurdity of certain extended set pieces, no doubt largely improvised by Ferrell and the requisite who’s-who of current screen and TV comedy (David Koechner, Will Arnett, Tim Meadows, Rob Corddry, Kristen Wiig, etc.).
Rather than revel in that manic weirdness, the film instead spends way too much time on the redemptive story arc of Harrelson’s Monix, and his romance with an ex-girlfriend played dully by Maura Tierney. Despite Ferrell’s top billing, the movie is really Monix’s story, with Jackie mostly serving as extensive comic relief. He’s not a bad reliever, but at best Semi-Pro only manages to be semi-funny.
Will Ferrell, Woody Harrelson, Andre Benjamin
Directed by Kent Alterman