Friday, September 5, 2008

DVD of the Week: Semi-Pro

Semi-Pro (2008) proved that Will Ferrell is no longer bulletproof at the box office. The film was not well-received by the critics (nothing new for Ferrell) but failed to connect with his fans like Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004) and Talladega Nights: The Ballad or Ricky Bobby (2006) did. On paper, Semi-Pro must’ve seemed like a sure-fire hit: mix the dumb guy humor from Anchorman with the underdog sports team of misfits from Slap Shot (1977) and sprinkle all sorts of popular culture references from the 1970s. So what went wrong?

Jackie Moon (Will Ferrell) is the ever-confident, terminally clueless owner, head coach, and star player (if you can call him that) of the Flint Tropics, an ABA basketball team that will probably be dissolved when the league merges with the NBA. Only the four best teams will make the cut which is not good news for Jackie’s team. They are awful, averaging an attendance record of 91 people a game. The lone exception on the team is Clarence “Downtown” Malone (Andre Benjamin) who actually has a shot at making it to the NBA. The Tropics are so bad that one of the local commentators (Will Arnett) reads the Classifieds section of the newspaper during one game.

In order to improve the team’s chances, Jackie trades their washing machine for Ed Monix (Woody Harrelson), a physical player not above punching out his opponents. The Tropics certainly have their work cut out for them. Not only do they have to start winning on a regular basis but they also have to average 2,000 people every home game. So, Jackie thinks up all kinds of hair-brained schemes to fill seats, including jumping the team’s cheerleaders on roller-skates and wrestling a grizzly bear.

For the first half of Semi-Pro, the comedic beats, or rhythm, is just not there. At the very least, it is inconsistent. Many jokes fall flat and are just not funny. The two color commentators Lou Redwood (Will Arnett) and Dick Pepperfield (Andrew Daly) steal every scene that they are in with their raunchy repartee (much like Jason Bateman and Gary Cole did in Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story). Then, a funny thing happens in the second half. The film actually gets better. There are a few serious moments, mostly dealing with Monix and his ex-girlfriend (Maura Tierney), and once the Tropics get their act together, the film picks up momentum.

Will Ferrell plays the same type of character we’ve seen in countless films – the clueless confident guy with a touch of arrogance. To be fair, he’s got it down to a science now, but it is getting a tad predictable. One gets the feeling that Ferrell is trying to recapture the magic of Anchorman, complete with the 1970s setting. Unfortunately, Semi-Pro is nowhere near as funny despite an excellent premise. Aside from Will Arnett as his usual snarky self, Woody Harrelson is quite good as a washed-up former NBA player looking for redemption and hoping to rekindle his relationship with an ex-flame.

Semi-Pro isn’t a total train-wreck by any stretch and it does have its genuine moments of hilarity but doesn’t quite deliver as well and as often as it should. If you can make it through the first half of the film, where the filmmakers struggle to find the right mix of humor and drama, you’ll be rewarded for a much more satisfying second half that pays off your patience for sticking it out.

Special Features:

The Two-Disc Unrated edition is loaded with extras all of which are included on the second disc while the first disc includes both the rated and unrated versions of the film.

There are four deleted/alternate scenes. Sportscaster Dick Pepperfield provides the backstory to Jackie Moon and his team. We see Monix’s prologue and how he deals with an obnoxious heckler. In an amusing montage, we find out what happens to all the major characters, which really should have been kept in.

Also included are three improv scenes. We get more the play-by-play banter from Lou and Dick with Will Arnett adlibbing all sorts of raunchy observations. There is also more of Jackie and Dick on the Tropics Weekly TV show which allows Farrell to cut loose with more clueless observations.

“A Short History of the ABA” takes a look at the actual ABA with former players reminiscing about it and clips of vintage footage. There are some interesting factoids that revealed, like how it started the three-point shot and introduced a more colorful, dynamic style of play that was eventually absorbed into the NBA.

“Re-creating the ABA” examines how the filmmakers authentically re-created the look and feel of the era. The cast went through an intensive, four-week training camp in order to be able to play like they did in the ‘70s.

“’Love Me Sexy’: The Story Behind the One Hit Wonder” takes a look at how Jackie’s hit song came together. Musician/producer Nile Rodgers worked on the music, which makes perfect sense as his hey day was the ‘70s, and Farrell adlibbed some of the lyrics at a cast reading. The result is a song that sounds like it could have come from that era.

Bill Walton Visits the Set” features the NBA legend shooting a cameo for the film. Everyone was clearly starstruck by his presence and he comes across as a humble, affable kind of guy.

“Four Days in Flint” examines the time the film crew spent shooting on location and why they picked that town as the setting for the story.

“The Man Behind Semi-Pro” takes a look at the genesis of the film. Screenwriter Scot Armstrong wanted to write a comedy about the ABA and director Kent Alterman takes us through the production process. Clearly, this film and the subject matter was a labor of love for the two men.

Also included is the “Love Me Sexy” music video with clips from the film and Farrell hamming it up as Jackie.

“Flint Tropics Hot Talk with Dick Pepperfield” includes two clips with Dick interviewing Jackie done in a style that looks like it might’ve come from the ‘70s complete with a washed out look that feels authentic.

Finally, there is a teaser, theatrical and red band trailers.

There's a wonderful appreciation of this film over at Moon in the Gutter. Check it out.

4 comments:

  1. Thanks for the link to my post on this film JD...I think it is safe to say that I am its biggest fan. Nice post by the way.

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  2. Heh, thanks! Yeah, I recall your review made me go back and watch it again. It definitely improves upon subsequent viewings.

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  3. I've heard a lot of mixed reaction on this film from my friends. I've thought I might give it a chance myself to see what I think.

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  4. the king of cool:

    It's one of those films that is really a tough call. I'm not a huge fan of Will Ferrell's but I really enjoyed it, nonetheless.

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