DVD Review: Semi-Pro
For me, there are two different kinds of Will Ferrell movies: The truly top-shelf stuff in which he makes me laugh almost every time he opens his mouth or does anything (Old School and his Adam McKay collaborations Anchorman and Talladega Nights), and the B- or C-list movies where he often seems to be going through the motions, with results ranging anywhere from piss-poor (Kicking and Screaming) to just-okay (Blades of Glory). In the latter types it often seems like he’s just running through the Will Ferrell playbook, yelling a lot, doing the odd pratfall and basically just playing an obnoxious jackass. (I’m not including his more dramatic stuff, like that Woody Allen movie he did and Stranger Than Fiction, which I quite enjoyed.) Semi-Pro isn’t as good as the A-level Ferrell movies, but it’s way better than the other stuff. A few times it scrapes up against the bottom of greatness, but it’s not really anything we haven’t seen before, either as a sports movie or a Will Ferrell comedy.
(Speaking of Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, I just wanted to slip in a few words about how excited I am about their next movie, Step Brothers, about two lazy man-children living with their single parents – the other is John C. Reilly – who are forced to live together when their folks marry each other. The trailer is here.)
Lots of people have pointed out Ferrell’s apparent predilection for sports movies; Semi-Pro is his third after tackling soccer (Kicking and Screaming) and NASCAR (Talladega Nights). And as played-out as Ferrell doing sports comedies may seem at this point, Semi-Pro, like Talladega Nights, has the advantage of the sport it follows – in this case ABA basketball – being inherently sort of ridiculous to begin with (NASCAR fan hatemail: GO!). The other edge Semi-Pro has on the other lower-tier Ferrell flicks is that Ferrell has created a pretty great character in Flint Tropics player/coach/owner Jackie Moon. He’s no Ron Burgundy, but those Old Spice ads alone made me laugh harder than anything in Blades of Glory.
The reason a dude in his late ‘30s who isn’t even that good at basketball is playing on and running an ostensibly pro basketball team is one of the film’s funniest jokes: Jackie Moon recorded a one-hit wonder soul song called ‘Love Me Sexy,’ and used the money he made from its brief success to buy an ABA franchise and move it back to his hometown of Flint, Michigan. The actual song ‘Love Me Sexy’ sounds amazingly authentic (it was crafted by veteran soul musician Nile Rodgers), and it was stuck in my head on and off for weeks after I saw the movie.
The plot of Semi-Pro is standard sports-movie fare: As the ABA collapses, the league signs a merger deal with the NBA that will see four ABA teams absorbed into the bigger league. Moon manages to convince the ABA to let the teams with the four best records into the NBA – rather than the teams in markets the NBA actually wants – kicking off the Flint Tropics’ push for fourth place. (I have a weakness for sports movies where the Big Game isn’t actually for the championship, but rather a smaller prize – like the Indians trying to win the AL East pennant in Major League – so the idea of fourth place as the goal amused me on its own.)
Comedy’s the most subjective of all genres, so I realize that what I think is hilarious (like Moon instructing his team to wear eyeliner to distract their opponents), other people might find just stupid. But I spent most of Semi-Pro’s running time either laughing or grinning, and in my books that’s a score. (I debated putting a basketball reference in there for a while, but decided against it. I think I made the right decision.)
The film’s secret weapon is Woody Harrelson, who plays a washed-up ABA veteran whose claim to fame was winning an NBA title with the Celtics as a bench player. Harrelson, as most people know, is really funny (and also a great basketball player – White Men Can’t Jump kicked off a basketball craze when I was in junior high), but he’s also a great actor, and he ends up investing the character of Monix with the kind of depth and reality that you don’t typically find in zany sports comedies.
Semi-Pro also has murderer’s row of excellent comic actors in supporting roles, like the brilliant Will Arnett (of Arrested Development fame; look for me to go on about that show in future posts), Andy Richter, Rob Corddry (see Blackballed, post-haste) and David Koechner, as well as a guy I’d never heard of named Andrew Daly who destroyed me as Tropics broadcaster Dick Pepperfield. After this movie I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for him.
The two-disc, unrated “Let’s Get Sweaty” DVD includes extra footage not in the theatrical version, largely consisting of a subplot about Moon having a skanky wife, and while there are a few good jokes in there about her and their relationship, their inclusion seems motivated at least in part to up the T&A factor.
Overall Semi-Pro is a solid effort from – love him or hate him – one of the titans of modern comedy movies. If you’re not into Will Ferrell this one won’t convert you, but if you’re a fan of Ferrell or sports comedies or both, Semi-Pro is deserving of your attention.
The Semi-Pro DVD has pretty much the perfect amount of bonus material, and manages to straddle the line between giving you more information than you could possibly need about a silly comedy and not giving you anything worth spending your time watching. It doesn’t have the insane amount of stuff found on the Talladega Nights or Anchorman DVDs (in the case of the latter, they had so much extra footage they assembled a whole other version of the movie), but there’s a nice balance between the usual making-of features and deleted/extended scenes and outtakes and improv stuff we’ve come to expect from comedy DVDs.
There’s a nice collection of featurettes about the movie, the most interesting of which are about recreating the ABA for the film. The ABA, the DVD goes to great lengths to explain (ugh, I feel old), was a real league in the ‘70s, and the folks behind Semi-Pro put quite a bit of effort into making it as realistic a portrayal as possible….for a Will Ferrell comedy. (Apparently “free gerbil night” was an actual ABA promotion, and not something they made up for the film. Huh.) There’s also a cool little feature on the ABA players with small roles in the movie, as well as a longer featutette on the film’s director, Kent Alterman, where all the cast and crew say all the requisite nice things about him. All of these benefit from not running too long, so before you can get bored of the accolades for Alterman, the thing’s over. Given that Semi-Pro is based somewhat in reality, it’s nice that they didn’t miss a chance to actually fill viewers in on that reality, especially for younger ones who may not realize that there really was an ABA back in the day.
The real treats are in the stuff from the cutting room floor. There’s a handful of deleted scenes, as well as an improv reel from various sequences in the movie in which Ferrell and co. try out different lines and versions of scenes. My personal favourite was Ferrell’s varying exclamations of agony when the aforementioned mascara plan goes awry. Almost every take is actually better than what’s in the finished film (which is still hilarious). There are also a couple of brilliant little promotional bits that run a minute or so each that were apparently done for the web to promote the film in which Moon is interviewed by Dick Pepperfield courtside. These are clearly improvised, and are almost as funny as anything in the movie. Overall the “Let’s Get Sweaty” of Semi-Pro is a great DVD package for a solid comedy, and is worth checking out.
Labels: comedy, DVD review, John C. Reilly, sports movies