After watching Will Ferrell ("Old School") bring his Funny or Die Comedy Tour to a packed Smith Center in North Carolina last week, I, alongside Tar Heels men's basketball coach Roy Williams and national player of the year candidate Tyler Hansbrough, was convinced that "Semi-Pro" would be more than just a semi-hit.
Oh, how I was wrong. And this is coming from an avid Ferrell fan.
Though he was fantastic during his standup performance, Ferrell's latest film fails even to draw iron. Better yet, this is one of those comedies where most of the jokes are in the trailer.
Hands down, this was the most disappointing flick I have seen in a long, long time. But I'm not exactly sure what is worse - watching Ferrell struggle onscreen to be funny or having actually to sit through the entire movie in my already cramped seat.
"Semi-Pro" is set in 1976, with Jackie Moon (Ferrell) serving as the owner/player/coach of the Flint (Michigan) Tropics, a losing franchise in the American Basketball Association. Unfortunately, the Tropics are so bad that they're on the verge of no longer existing.
After announcing that the ABA is planning to merge with the more established National Basketball Association, Moon convinces the ABA commissioner (David Koechner, "The Comebacks") that the top four teams should be allowed to join the NBA. (Of course, this decision is made after some childish arguing between Moon and the commissioner.)
However, it is the subplot which ultimately breaks "Semi-Pro," leaving the audience to wonder whether this film was actually supposed to be more sincere than funny.
In an attempt not only to win but to fill the seats, Moon trades the team's washing machine for aging superstar Ed Monix (Woody Harrelson, "White Men Can't Jump"). Beginning as a discordant force, Monix ends up unifying the team while attempting to rekindle a relationship with his old flame, Lynn (Maura Tierney, "ER"). But there is no chemistry on screen between the two whatsoever.
Apparently "Semi-Pro" wants to be that sports underdog story intended to make one feel good; however, audiences have seen it done way too many times. Therefore, in the end you're left not really caring about anyone.
Though most of the story is fictionalized, the film does a decent job of portraying the pop culture version of the outrageous '70s. However, one gets the impression that Ferrell and first-time director Kent Alterman probably relied on that a bit too much.
Although the wild and crazy ABA did not last, it separated itself from the NBA with innovations such as the three-point shot and slam dunk contest. And as a nod to those attributes, I did enjoy the incorporation of the alley oop in the movie, which the Tropics used effectively.
Despite the lack of vision, the music is another lone bright spot, including Moon's hit single "Love Me Sexy," which allowed him to purchase the Tropics to begin with. In addition, the combination of zany sports announcers Lou Redwood (Will Arnett, "Arrested Development") and Dick Pepperfield (Andrew Daly) provide the film with some much-needed laughs.
But the punch lines are few and far between, and when "Semi-Pro" tries to be funny (random bear attacks), it does the complete opposite. Amazingly enough there are not enough scenes involving Ferrell, particularly on the court. In fact, basketball is almost viewed as an afterthought in this movie, providing few court scenes and not enough trash talk.
Even for a sports fan with a keen sense of humor, and after sitting throughout the entire movie, credits and all, still was there not enough positives to make this dud semi-good.
"Semi-Pro" is rated R for Profanity and sexual situations. It has a running time of an hour and thirty minutes.