REVIEW: Semi-Pro [2008]

“Softest hands in the world”

Will Ferrell has done it again. He got my butt in the seat based off a funny trailer and funnier spoof premise despite the fact I knew I would end up hating the film. Yes, I did not like it much at all. Probably more entertaining than its predecessors, I found myself laughing big at more scenes, rather than just laughs in one or two sequences. I credit this fact to it not trying to be a movie, but instead relying on its strung together skits as just that. Sure it is all loosely tied together for somewhat of an arc in the absurd fantasy world that the Flint Tropics would ever have a shot at becoming an NBA team, but for its own good, Semi-Pro never took itself seriously and I was able to enjoy that fact even though I would have no real interest in ever seeing it again.

Barely making the 90 minutes mark, (if it does at all), this is a very short film. I would actually say that is a compliment because the jokes don’t have quite the breathing room to get as stale as they could have easily become. What the length does detract from is the screentime of the multitude of side characters. When a joke prop played by Jackie Earle Haley, (the absolute best thing in this film), gets more face time than a tried and true actress like Maura Tierney, you know no one is going to get ample minutes to work with. Tierney is the romantic love interest here, usually that role would be given second billing, but the funny thing here is that she is the love interest for the right-hand man, not the star. Ferrell’s Jackie Moon doesn’t need a love interest because he is already too in love with himself.

I do need to applaud Ferrell for not hijacking this as he customarily does. Yes he is on screen for almost 100% of the movie, but he allows those around him to run free and enhance rather than just be fodder for his own loud, obnoxious shenanigans. Some of the set pieces are perfect for the whole group to really shine at his expense, a very welcome change to the horrid string of “everyman” bio-spoofs he has been churning out. Scenes like at the poker table, (Jive Turkey); the during commercial brawl on the court, (a priceless ending when they come back on air); and in full Broadway/Sesame Street costumes during a pivotal scene of a power shift, (when they all try to hide from what they are saying by covering their faces with giant foam hands you realize the absurdity of the situation was intentional for those expressions to payoff as funny), really stick out and bring enough laughs to overcome their randomness. The alley-opp stunned silence is also top-notch.

We are still given the requisite moments of emotion as though what these players are going through is real life. When they make decisions for the better of the team instead of their own individual self, you think to yourself that a tear might come to your eye due to the excruciating pain of sitting through those moments. I know you need some weight in order to invest in the story, but really I just came to laugh; make me laugh and don’t try to be like you’re a serious film. They also rely on skits that have been done better before in previous comedies like Andrew Daly and the great Will Arnett doing their best impersonations of the Dodgeball commentators. You can’t help think of that superior film and the fact that this is just a poor facsimile.

There is still a lot to enjoy during the mess, however. André Benjamin is great as Clarence “Coffee” Black. He has the comic chops to do some supporting role damage in the industry, but roles like he has had in “The Shield” show that he could be doing so much better than this hokey fare. Woody Harrelson does well as the professional coming in to save the day—although his character’s true payoff is with Rod Corddry being totally excited that his girlfriend was falling for Woody, his sports hero. There are a lot of cameos from “Daily Show” (Steve Carell is absent) and “Upright Citizens Brigade” alums and each brings a smirk at some point.

Is it great? Absolutely not. Does it have some big laughs? For sure. Would I recommend it? No. Saying that doesn’t mean a thing, though, because if you are a fan of Ferrell’s previous work in this “genre” you will be going anyway. Besides that, I am a self-proclaimed detractor of his starring work, (I do enjoy him in smaller roles and more subdued ones), so no one will listen to my opinion. Either way, for what it’s worth, I had more fun with this than his others. Maybe I was just in a better mood or maybe I just didn’t take it as serious as the others because, thankfully, it didn’t take itself that way either.

Semi-Pro 4/10 | ★ ½

[1] Will Ferrell (left), Woody Harrelson (center) and Matt Walsh (right) in New Line Cinema’s SEMI-PRO. Photo Credit: Frank Masi. Copyright © New Line Cinema. All Rights Reserved.
[2] Andre Benjamin (center) stars as “Clarence” in New Line Cinema’s upcoming comedy, SEMI-PRO. Photo Credit: Frank Masi. Copyright © New Line Cinema. All Rights Reserved.


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