Director    Kent Alterman
Starring    Will Ferrell, Woody Harrelson, Will Arnett, Maura Tierney, Andre Benjamin
Release    29 FEB (US) 29 FEB (UK)    Certificate 15
2 stars


3rd March 2008

The poster tells you all you need to know: Semi-Pro is a Will Ferrell sports comedy. The trailer tells you even less: "I, Jackie Moon, will wrestle a bear," says Ferrell's character, before being savaged and yelling "The only thing I care about is my hair!" This, apparently, is enough to get bums on seats: the tagline might as well read 'WILL FERRELL HAS AN AFRO - GIVE US YOUR MONEY!' However, after Kicking & Screaming, Talladega Nights and Blades Of Glory, the law of diminishing returns dictates that acting silly just isn't enough any more: Semi-Pro is the weakest Will Ferrell vehicle in quite a while.

The movie opens with Ferrell's dulcet tones, introducing us to his Jackie Moon - a big-haired '70s superstar who hit big with a filthy ditty named 'Love Me Sexy' and subsequently bought a basketball team with his earnings. Moon, the owner, coach and star forward for the awful Flint Tropics, lives a life of boyish excess that's only occasionally interrupted by bouts of basketball. But when a proposed merger with the NBA signals the end for the Tropics, Moon and his team must pull up their tube socks and play to win - somebody cue the montage.

Jackie Moon is another Will Ferrell character created by cookie-cutter - goofy looking, obnoxious and running on misplaced confidence. If you're sick of the same old gags, then you're in good company - with worry lines on his face and an increasing look of desperation, even Ferrell himself looks tired of them. As he did with Talladega Nights, Semi-Pro sees him try to intentionally recreate the apparent free-form lunacy of Anchorman, throwing bizarre non-sequiters into the mix ("If anybody sees a Possum, kill it. It's not a pet") and flat-out shouting his lines into camera, often peppering them with unnecessary profanity. The more the formula is diluted, the more you start to think that Ron Burgundy might have been a fluke.

Semi-Pro actually cares very little for sports comedy convention, presumably because there's so little humour to be wrung from such well-worn scenarios. The movie's outrageous set-pieces - the aforementioned bear wrestling scene, Moon jumping cheerleaders on a motorcycle - are written as attention-grabbing promotion events, but they serve only to pad out an extremely weak script containing maybe half an hour of solid material. An entirely redundant romance side-story just muddies the water even more: it often feels like an SNL sketch stretched to feature length.

The movie's most heinous crime is wasting the talent of those on board. Woody Harrelson's old war-horse barely raises a smile (and, disappointinly, he doesn't even get to dunk), Outkast's André 3000 seems like he's acting in a different movie and Rob Corddry literally gets about three lines. Even worse, Will Arnett (aka the mighty Gob) is wasted in a token commentator role, one that was done much better four years ago by his screen brother Jason Bateman in Dodgeball: see this movie for a lesson on how to do sports comedies properly.

There are moments of brief laughter dotted throughout Semi-Pro, fleeting though they are. An ad break punch-up strikes the required balance between silly and funny, while Ferrell's on-court exclamation to a bemused ref ("Suck my cock, I'll murder your family!") is only topped by his outrage at being dismissed. Kudos also to whoever put together the movie's soundtrack; a funky mix of classic American soul that injects some sass into an otherwise lacklustre picture. Ferrell, though, is content to riff on the same one-note tune he composed in previous sport-coms, and frankly it's an act that's starting to grate. Semi-Pro will likely leave its star with a sore throat and bruised pride but a bulging wallet nonetheless: it's possibly the first movie ever to be less funny than the products it advertises.

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