THE FERRELLIZATION OF BASKETBALL
by Kevin Bowen
published February 29, 2008
now playing nationwide
Will Ferrell is the ultimate comedy star for
our cut-and-paste times.
His films feature uproarious set-pieces
surrounded by colorless blah. When you catch sidesplitting doses of Talladega Nights, you forget how numbing the rest of the film
is. If you wanted to make a high-quality Will Ferrell movie, you could snip a little of this and a little of that and smudge them together.
Suddenly you’re swimming in a mash-up of great comedy – the mindless bit going forth to multiply.
Nor would you need to fuss about the
continuity of storytelling. Every Will Ferrell movie is blueprint-blue identical. Underachieving man-child, often an athlete, seeks to make
good and gain respect. Match Plot A with Plot B, iron in a transition, and you have a successful comedy salad. Just add
Semi-Pro, the seventies-era comic Caesar set among the colorful spinning balls of disco floors and the American Basketball
Association, makes for one of Ferrell’s better models. It’s not just great in bits, but vaguely decent in its overall flow. It has one great
set-piece that’s a take-off of the famous Joe Pesci “You think I’m funny” scene in Goodfellas. There’s also a gem of an on-court
slugfest that’s timed for a commercial break to keep from hurting viewership. There is also the splash-dash patter of the home-team
broadcasters – one a lush, one a dork – who get off a string of great lines, including a shiner about Henry Ford. If that’s not
your taste, you can always watch Ferrell wrestle a bear.
Semi-Pro basks in the carefree and randy reputation of the red-white-and-blue ball league. Jackie Moon is a one-hit disco wonder
and night-club ladies man who sticks his money into a hometown basketball team, the Flint Tropics. He serves as power forward, coach, and
promotional guru, a guy more interested in outfitting his players in seahorse costumes for the halftime show than working out the Xs and Os.
ABA owners decide to merge into the NBA, Moon hopes against financial sanity to get in, but his team must finish fourth place to make the cut.
The pick-up of a hated goon played by Woody Harrelson could save the day. The result is a mixture of Ferrell-ized Slap
Shot and The Fish that Saved Pittsburgh. It’s a movie that holds on to win by one bucket after grabbing the opening tip.
Growing up, my hometown college basketball
team had a group of fans who dressed like Vikings and charged down the steps as the other team shot free throws. The hometown minor
league baseball team was known as an innovator in “family entertainment,” kids chasing down the mascot on the base paths and such. There’s a
tremendous amount of oddball creativity and lovably mock-able civic pride invested in these outfits. It’s a fertile field for comedy, and
Semi-Pro approaches it with a sharp shooter’s stroke.
kevinbowen @ stageandcinema.com