Where there's a Will Ferrell, there's a way to make something uniquely whacky or remake the same formulaic sports comedy.
"Semi-Pro" would be an instance of the latter. If you've seen Chazz in "Blades of Glory" or Ricky Bobby in "Talladega Nights," you've pretty much seen Jackie Moon -- the familiar Ferrell role du jour.
Jackie is the owner, coach and star player of a semi-professional basketball team called the Flint (Mich.) Tropics. That oxymoron is funny. So, briefly, is Jackie, a former soul singer with one hit song ("Lick Me Sexy") to his credit. But his charisma, such as it is, has not transitioned well from music to basketball. The Flint Tropics are in last place -- flat broke, with a dwindling fan base.
2 stars = Mediocre
- Starring: Will Ferrell, Woody Harrelson
- Rating: R for strong language.
- Web site: semipromovie.com
Suddenly, some good news: The NBA announces it's going to take over the minor league. The bad news: Only the top four teams will be absorbed, the rest dissolved. Jackie's Tropics will cease to exist unless they miraculously climb out of the cellar to fourth place.
To that end, Jackie hires washed-up Monix (Woody Harrelson), a former NBA star who was recently traded for a washing machine. Monix has unresolved issues on and off the court, including an ex-girlfriend in Flint. "You hate yourself so much, it's impossible to love you," she says.
It's equally impossible to love Jackie -- except for one scene in which Monix finds him despondently eating old pancakes in a trash Dumpster. Otherwise, this self-indulgent mess of a movie, lamely directed by first-timer Kent Alterman, consists of bad slapstick (Jackie wrestles a bear for publicity), a painfully stupid dream sequence (Jackie meets his late mother for heavenly intercession), and every sports-movie cliche in the playbook.
Collateral casualties: Harrelson, relegated to Ferrell's straight man; fab character actor Jackie Earle Haley, wasted in a bit part as a homeless guy; and multi-talented Andre Benjamin as the hot-shot player with an unlikely conscience.
Been here, done this.
"Semi-Pro" is a test of how many slipshod retreads Ferrell fans will buy. With or without Michael Moore, you should be able to get better vehicles in Flint.
Barry Paris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . First Published February 29, 2008 5:00 AM