Any one of us could write a treatment for a new Will Ferrell movie: set it in the ’70s or early ’80s, give him a daggy haircut and duds, make him a big fish in a small pond who gets his comeuppance but triumphs anyway, throw in Andy Richter and some scantily clad babes (definitely an animal attack), and there you go.
Such blatant formulism—and greed—is losing Ferrell respect (his turns in smarter fare, such as Stranger Than Fiction and Melinda and Melinda, have been good but scant), though it’s worth noting how well that formulism works for him. (One might compare him to the comedians of Old Hollywood, most of whom had no desire to throw their devoted audiences a curveball). And Semi-Pro is better than its predecessor, Blades of Glory: not a great feat to be sure, but Ferrell’s self-satisfied, absurdist schtick is toned down and there are some funny, even some subtler moments to be savoured.
The latter come mostly from Woody Harrelson, who plays Monix, an ex-NBA player who returns to his hometown of Flint, Michigan, to help his former team—owned and coached by Ferrell, who also plays on it—make it to the pros. Monix is the film’s unapologetic adult, an antidote to Ferrell’s Jackie Moon, king of gimmicky, catastrophic promotions (one of which is a parody of the Cleveland Indians’ infamous Ten Cent Beer Night in 1974). Monix’s scenes with his love interest, Lynn (Maura Tierney), might even, albeit briefly, be mistaken for kitchen-sink drama.
Of course this won’t matter to Ferrell’s fans, who desperately want another Anchorman. Semi-Pro isn’t it: it goes for long periods without a successful joke (all scenes involving Arrested Development’s Will Arnett, who plays a jaded sportscaster and was also in Blades, are utterly flaccid). Yet Semi-Pro still flies. It may be Ferrell on autopilot, but it takes you where you want to go—if, that is, you’re still interested in going there.
Semi-Pro is now playing at Scotiabank Theatre (259 Richmond St. W.), SilverCity Yonge & Eglinton (2300 Yonge St.), The Beach (1651 Queen St. E.) and others.