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Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2008 05:16 am

On top of his game

Will Ferrell sticks with his tried-and-true formula in Semi-Pro

Semi-Pro Running time 1:44 Rated PG-13 ShowPlace West, Showplace East
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Semi-Pro Running time 1:44 Rated PG-13 ShowPlace West, Showplace East

It’s been said that Will Ferrell is simply repeating the same old shtick from one film to the next. As long as he keeps me laughing, I couldn’t care less. Ferrell knows what pays the bills, and though his latest, Semi-Pro, does contain many of the same elements in his previous two sports-themed movies, Talladega Nights and Blades of Glory, the film is great fun, mainly because the actor continues to throw himself into his roles with abandon and surround himself with a supporting cast that’s willing to do the same. Ferrell plays Jackie Moon, a one-hit wonder on the 1970s music scene who invests all of his money in a Flint, Mich.-based basketball franchise. The Flint Tropics are part of the American Basketball Association, which means they’ll have an uphill battle taking attention away from the long-established and far more respectable NBA. Needless to say, Moon is up to the task. He gets busy cooking up gimmicks, such as a wrestling match with a bear, to put butts in seats. The stunts may be fun, but they’re not enough to overcome the Tropics’ poor play, so Moon does the unthinkable: He hires two stars to help his hapless crew of hoopsters finish at least in fourth place, guaranteeing that the team will be absorbed into the NBA. Monix (Woody Harrelson), a former player from the NBA whose career was sidelined by injuries and quick temper, is the first of the two outsiders. The other is Clarence “Downtown” Withers (André Benjamin), a hotshot on the court who’s obviously writer Scot Armstrong’s tip of the hat to Julius Irving, the only bona fide star to come out of the ABA. As you would expect, their style clashes with that of Moon and the other malcontents who make up the Tropics.
As with most of Ferrell’s films, this is a hit-or-miss affair, but the successful gags outweigh the flat ones in the end. The bearbaiting sequence, a keeper, underscores Ferrell’s penchant for physical comedy, and a shooting contest involving a dirty hippie is memorable as well. Of course, the fact that the film is set in ’70s lends itself to a bevy of sight gags, what with the bad fashion, huge hair, awful music, and indecent basketball shorts of the time. Although Semi-Pro will not win Ferrell any new fans, it will please his legion of followers and solidifies his standing as the most consistent comic actor of his generation. Though some may view this as a backhanded compliment, there’s something to be said for being able to act the fool.
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