Surely, you are aware that Will Ferrell’s schtick is growing tiresome. Kicking and Screaming, Talladega Nights, Blades of Glory… It’s obvious that there’s a formula at work here, and watching Will Ferrell sports movies is going to eventually get tiresome for everybody. It bothers me because it seems like creative executives aren’t being creative, they’re saying, “Hey, let’s give Will Ferrell a funny job and just let him go crazy!”
So going into this movie, we already know a few things about it. We know Ferrell will shout a lot, there will be wacky clothing, and wacky attitudes, and there will be a great supporting cast. Thus, it would seem, came Semi-Pro.
However, this phenomenon, the Will Ferrell schtick, has blossomed to a point where filmmakers can actively combat it or endorse it. Films like Stranger Than Fiction rein him in, while ones like Blades of Glory let him loose. One would hope that a balance could be struck, and Semi-Pro is an odd movie for just this reason. Because while the movie would have you believe that Ferrell’s “Jackie Moon” is the hero of the film, he’s not. He’s actually the antagonist.
After the first act, the Tropics trade for a grizzled, old point-guard (Woody Harrelson) and there’s an odd switch in the film’s focus. Harrelson’s Monix is a complex character, attempting to rebuild a lost relationship with his ex-wife, living off the glory of having played in the NBA (he’s basically Crash Davis from Bull Durham), and he quickly takes over coaching the team, prompting them towards fundamental play and an unlikely winning streak. That sounds like a lead role, doesn’t it?
Farrell’s character does nothing to provide momentum. Instead, many of the obstacles that the team must overcome involve simply getting Jackie Moon to calm down. His passion for the team and outlandish promotions hinder the team more than they help, to the point where the opposing ideologies of basketball, fundamental vs. fun, become the difference between Monix and Moon. In the end, of course, both are needed.
What a strange concept, structurally. It’s almost as if the script was written and then, years later, rewritten to give a minor but humorous character the lead because Ferrell was attached. It’s as if they knew Ferrell would steal the movie, so they preemptively gave it to him. However off-putting this strategy is, it does seem to work. Will Ferrell does his schtick, but is eventually relegated to a supporting cast member as the other characters, most notably Harrelson and Andre 3000, assert themselves on the plot.
There’s a bottom line here, and that is: Semi-Pro is funny. Ferrell hadn’t been really funny in a while, and this is a good comedy. It’s also a great sports movie. There aren’t many good basketball comedies… Celtic Pride… Like Mike… Semi-Pro belongs near the head of the “good basketball comedies” list.
A Graphical Representation of Will Ferrell’s Humorousness over Time
Don’t ask me about the mathematical data used in the calculation of this graph. It’s overly complex, and would take days to explain it to a layman like you. Rest assured, it’s very scientific. Furthermore, the formula contained herein is proprietary and I simply can’t allow it to fall into the wrong hands.