MOVIE REVIEW- Totally recycled: But Ferrell still makes us laugh
Kent Alterman never directed a movie before Semi-Pro, but he must have seen a lot of them, including those written by his screenwriter, Scot Armstrong: Road Trip, Old School, Starsky & Hutch, School for Scoundrels and last year's remake of The Heartbreak Kid.
Ferrell stars in Semi-Pro as Jackie Moon, who parlays a one-hit wonder (Love Me Sexy) recording career into enough fame and fortune to buy the Flint (Michigan) Tropics and become their coach and power forward. He also emcees their home games and is a master of promotion, offering free gerbils and corn dogs, even wrestling a live bear to fill the stands.
"Fill" may be a slight exaggeration, since the first game we see has more people on the court than in the seats. It's 1976, and the Tropics are in what was then the American Basketball Association. Sports fans know that was the tenth and final season for the league (no relation to the current ABA, which started more than 20 years later), which was to be disbanded at the end except for four teams that merged with the NBA.
Sorry for all the history, but that's the basis of the movie's plot. The Tropics, a bunch of losers, are trying to get into the top four so they can become an NBA team. If that story line doesn't sound too original, how about bringing in a new coach to really seem derivative?
Point guard Ed Monix (Woody Harrelson), who's spent his NBA career on the bench, transfers to the Tropics and soon takes over coaching from Jackie, who knows diddly about it. Despite the team mantra, "Everybody love everybody," Ed clashes with teammate Clarence (André Benjamin), who changes his name to "Coffee Black," and tries to pick up where he left off with Lynn (Maura Tierney), ignoring her husband, Kyle (Rob Corddry).
Because the team's broke, Jackie can't afford to pay a hippie fan, Dukes (Jackie Earle Haley), the $10,000 he's been promised for making a free throw.
Yes, it's totally recycled, including commentators Andrew Daly and Will Arnett, who get off some good lines but collectively aren't worth one Fred Willard. The Big Game starts at the end of the first hour, and things get a little too serious too soon, but there are still some big laughs ahead.
Semi-Pro milks the disco era for nostalgia and humor. Who can look at a leisure suit with a straight face? Patti LaBelle represents the era with a surprise cameo late in the movie.
It's easy to fault Semi-Pro for its predictability and lack of originality, but hard to deny it provides a good many solid laughs. It's certainly not great art, but it's a mild hoot for the Ferrell child in all of us.