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Frat Pack Tribute Movie Review: Semi-Pro

Synopsis

The American Basketball Association is on the verge of collapse, and when former NBA benchwarmer returns Jackie Moon (Will Ferrell) to his hometown of Flint, Michigan to whip his former team into shape for the playoffs, redemption is just a free-throw away in this period sports comedy costarring Woody Harrelson. Penned by Old School scribe Scot Armstrong, Semi-Pro tells the tale of a 1970s-era basketball player who doesn't have much luck in the NBA, but vows to leave his mark on the sport by coaching the Flint Tropics to an unlikely victory in the biggest game of the year.

Will Arnett and Andy Richter play the announcers Lou Redwood and Bobby Dee, while familiar Frat Pack Friends Matt Walsh and David Koechner are in place as Father Pat the Referee and "the Commish" respectively. Tierney plays Harrelson's love interest, while Kate Luyben (briefly seen in The 40 Year-Old Virgin) is Ferrell's wife Staci Moon, "the hottest woman on the planet."

Review

by Drew Hunt

For the better part of a decade, Will Ferrel has undeniably been Hollywood's go-to-guy for blockbuster comedies. With movies like Elf, Talladega Nights, and Blades of Glory all breaking the $100 million mark, the man has raked in the cash and solidified himself as one of the funniest people on the planet. Many believe, however, that Ferrel's shtick is a joke; his harshest critics claim he plays the same character over and over: the arrogant, self-absorbed miscreant who falls from grace, but eventually realizes there's more to life than instant gratification makes a glorious comeback. Still, numbers don't lie. His films continue to gross large amounts as people flock to the theaters to see what kind of zany adventure Mr. Ferrel has gotten himself into this time. However, with his latest turn, the basketball comedy Semi-Pro, it has become strikingly apparent that the "Burgundy Well" has gone dry, both in terms of the actor's performance as well as box office gusto.

Now, that is not to say that this is a bad movie -- it's certainly not a good movie, in the sense of Oscar winners and art-school fodder -- but Semi-Pro does not fail to inspire some deep, belly-laughs. But, somewhat surprisingly, they don't come from the place you'd most likely expect. In the film, Ferrel plays Jackie Moon, the eccentric owner/coach/player of the Flint, Michigan Tropics, an ABA team in danger of being dissolved after an impending merger with the National Basketball Association. In typical Ferrel fashion, Moon is a clueless self-promoter, more interested in selling his teams appeal with madcap half-time attractions as opposed to any actual coaching. It's a tailor-made role, the kind Ferrel has played for years, but just as it sounds on paper, the character is inherently one-dimensional, a problem Ferrel used to solve with brilliant comedic timing. But here, his performance is lazy, and altogether boring.

Because of recent R-rated success from films like Superbad and Knocked Up, the studios apparently found it safe to bump up the usual PG-13, thus allowing more room for F-words and fornication. But somewhere along the line, someone failed to realized that just because you can swear more doesn't automatically make your movie better. In past situations, when Ferrel was forced to censor himself to PG-13 dialog, he relied on his improv skills and that quick wit of his to provide some large laughs. With Semi-Pro, however, rather than deliver a clever quip or line he's famous for, he settles for something more vulgar, and subsequently less funny. He's quicker to say "cock sucker" (the film's apparent swear of choice) than anything else -- a move probably once considered wise, but ultimately comes off as sloppy and unprofessional. This is undoubtedly Ferrel's weakest performance, and only by viewing the trailer for his upcoming film Step Brothers prior to Semi-Pro will you be provided any kind of hope that the man can still bring the funny.

Sometimes, though, the R-rating does allow some scenes and jokes that couldn't be pulled off otherwise. In this aspect, Semi-Pro proves to be a more entertaining and more funny than Blades of Glory, which never seemed to go far enough. Semi-Pro and it's director Kent Alterman would have been wise to somehow find a balance between clever comedy and vulgar-for-no-reason, but there never appears to be much of an effort to make the movie any more than slightly creative.

Really, the only thing saving the movie is its supporting cast and a somewhat formidable screenplay from the by now seasoned Scot Armstrong. Woody Harrelson is very effective playing the straight man Monix to Ferrel's whacky Moon. His serious portrayal comes as a large relief and successfully provides the film some legitimate conflict. In a brilliant bit of casting, his reputation as a more serious actor kept the character believable, and most importantly likable -- someone like Seth Rogen, or even Owen Wilson, in the role would have been severely less effective, as the audience would have been waiting for the large, bombastic jokes that never come. The inverse, however, is true of long-time Ferrel collaborator David Koechner who plays the ABA comissioner with good amount of sincerity. Seeing Koechner in a more serious-grounded role provides some needed clout in his possible leading-man status. This isn't to say, though, that either are denied to stretch their legs comically, as both have laugh-out-loud moments -- particularly the board room scene where Koechner gives the news of the future merger (a sequence in which he actually outshines Ferrel). Also giving the film some saving graces is Andre Benjamin, better known as Andre 3000 of the highly successful hip-hop duo OutKast. The subplot he shares with Harrelson is much more interesting than the films main arc, something that both hurts and helps.

The movie is also filled with some effective cameos: Kristen Wiig is great as the clueless trainer of a bear that eventually goes on to wreak havoc after escaping from one of Jackie's semi-funny money making ideas; Tim Meadows, who two years ago nobody remembered and is now suddenly appearing in movies again, has the best cameo playing a friend of Moon's in a hilarious scene of poker gone horribly wrong ("Oh, yeah, you're right. I was shot!"). Also popping up and providing laughs are Ed Helms, Jason Sudekis, a very funny Matt Walsh as "Father Pat the Ref" and a blink-and-you'll-miss her Charlene Yi of Knocked Up fame. Frat Pack friend and Tribute Site enthusiast Will Arnett is so-so playing Lou Redwood, one half of the Tropics broadcast team also featuring the more funny Dick Pepperfield, played by Andrew Daly, who is slated to appear in the upcoming Gary Sanchez-produced TV show East Bound and Down.

The question one is left asking after viewing this film is simply "How long is this going to last?" -- and what a valid question it is. If Blades of Glory showed signs of wear, Semi-Pro is the proverbial straw on the camel's back. If this is indeed the last time we see Will Ferrel as what can now only be referred to as RickyRon MichaelsBobbyMoon, it could only be seen as a welcome change.

The Frat Pack Tribute's Semi-Pro Set Visit

Our Senior Editor Rick Duran visited the set of Will Ferrell's upcoming basketball comedy, Semi-Pro, and sits down to tell us about it. He has interesting tidbits about the movie such as the cast and crew's respect for Will Ferrell's improv skills, a recent Owen Wilson set visit, how Woody Harrelson is a fan favorite, and that Steve Carell really is a nice guy.

Oh, and Rick was able to talk to Semi-Pro and Blades of Glory star Will Arnett who dropped a bombshell; he's seen our Frat Pack Circle of Trust. And he gave Rick a good-natured hard time about his placement!

Listen to the Semi-Pro Set Visit Podcast Episode

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Thanks to Cash and the guys from Be In A Movie.com

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