- The Washington Times - Friday, February 29, 2008

Turns out Will Ferrell can’t just tug on a sports uniform and make a hit comedy out of thin air. Mr. Ferrell’s “Semi-Pro” takes on the world of the American Basketball Association, the rebel league that merged with the National Basketball Association in the mid-1970s. Rather than spoof that era’s basketball mores, or even tweak how the league’s marketing has evolved since then, “Semi-Pro” mistakes foul language for comic inspiration.

Mr. Ferrell’s absurdist style carries his team for the first quarter, but the movie quickly gets into foul trouble.

Mr. Ferrell is Jackie Moon, a one-hit wonder who parlayed his music fame into his own ABA franchise, the Flint, Mich. Tropics. He not only runs his club, but he plays power forward and does the promotional heavy lifting. He even serves as the team’s pregame announcer.

Even Dan Snyder isn’t that hands-on.

However, very few people care enough to watch the Tropics in action, and the ABA is about to go under, with only the best four teams merging into the NBA.

So it’s up to Jackie to find a way to crack the top four and start putting fannies in the seats. The first chore gets easier when he trades the team’s washing machine for a washed-up veteran named Monix (a shaggy Woody Harrelson). Monix has an NBA championship ring on his finger, so he has a few tips to share with his new teammates.

The Tropics start draining baskets like never before, but they still can’t draw a crowd. That’s when Jackie gets creative, turning to a number of ill-advised promotions, like wrestling a baby bear, to get the stadium rocking.

Mr. Ferrell’s best sports comedy, “Talladega Nights,” came from his collaboration with longtime ally Adam McKay. Here, he’s got a new writing and directing team (Scot Armstrong, Kent Alterman), and it’s clear they can’t bring out the best in their lead.

There’s something unfortunate about watching the former “Saturday Night Live” star rely so heavily on coarse language for a laugh. The first F-bombs sure are funny, but the 18th?

The supporting players are either wasted or ignored. Andre Benjamin looks like he stepped right out of 1975 with his gargantuan afro, but his character isn’t given much chance to shine. And poor Maura Tierney. The “ER” mainstay plays Monix’s on again, off again, girlfriend, and she has fewer lines than an extra on her own series.

Only Jackie Earle Haley makes the most of his brief screen time as a stoned Tropics fan.

There’s something about the 1970s that seems perfect for comedy, be it the wide lapel suits or those funky sideburns. However, Jackie’s sweaty single, “Love Me Sexy,” provides the biggest laughs here. Mr. Ferrell might have done better with an entire movie about a washed up disco king.

Second-tier Ferrell may still be enough to extend the comic’s sports movie hit streak, but “Semi-Pro” shows the comedian can’t do it all by himself.

**

TITLE: “Semi-Pro”

RATING: R (Adult language)

CREDITS: Directed by Kent Alterman. Written by Scot Armstrong

RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes

WEB SITE: www.semipromovie.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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