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SEMI-PRO

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Will Ferrell, Woody Harrelson, Andre Benjamin, Maura Tierney, Will Arnett, David Koechner
Director: Kent Alterman
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 EX, Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: New Line Cinema
Features: See Review
Length: 100 Minutes
Release Date: June 3, 2008

“It’s like the Titanic but with bears!!!!”

Film ***

Will Ferrell as a self-loving, idiotic athlete? At this point, that concept is not very original. Actually, it’s quite a consistent concept with Ferrell’s comedies.

And yet Semi-Pro, the first of Ferrell’s sports comedies to receive a lukewarm response from critics, actually works very well in spite of the overused formula. It’s not frenetically funny like Blades of Glory, but it’s certainly funnier than the slightly overrated Talladega Nights. The laughs are huge and in such good supply, that I was able to forgive the moments when the movie tries to have something of a story in between the goofiness, which tends to be distracting for a comedy like this.

This time around, Ferrell fires his rapid comedy persona into the world of basketball. Make that the world of basketball in the 1970s. In particular, the once popular league known as American Basketball Association, and the movie gets instant credit for using this rarely depicted league as the backdrop.

Ferrell, complete with huge 70s style hair, plays Jackie Moon, the owner, coach and player of the Flint (Michigan) Tropics. The movie’s funny opening montage shows how Jackie attained the triple threat status. He’s actually a singer who took the royalties from his one-hit-wonder song, the funny and very catchy “Love Me Sexy”, to buy the franchise.

But, as expected, the team is one of the worst in the league. And to make matters worse, the ABA is on the verge of extinction in the form of being absorbed into the NBA. Only the top four teams will be merged into the league, and Jackie wastes no time in shaping the team into a winning team, starting with the addition of a new player, disgraced NBA player Ed Monix (Woody Harrelson).

Being that Jackie’s heart lies more in the realm of over-the-top promotions for the team as opposed to actual basketball methods, he agrees to let Monix take over as coach. As a result, the team actually becomes a better one and a winning streak develops. And you can pretty much predict the rest of the movie.

Despite all the underdog sports clichés, as well as a useless love story subplot between Monix and a former flame, Ferrell’s high wire comedy antics and various supporting characters are what keep Semi-Pro in the game. In addition to the insanely funny Ferrell one-liners, we also get many laughs from Will Arnett and Andrew Daly as the team sports announcers.

And without ruining details, I’ll briefly mention two of the movie’s most classic bits. The first is a poker scene where we learn that calling someone a jive turkey can have harsh consequences. The later scene involves Jackie taking on bear named Dewey as part of a ill-conceived promotion.

It’s nothing remarkable, but Semi-Pro delivers the laughs full court press style. Though I agree that the Will Ferrell sports comedy has run its course, he still manages to be the premiere cinematic goofball here. And we can all agree that 70s basketball is a most inspired backdrop for a comedy. Thus, if Ferrell shall end his streak of sports comedies, this is the perfect one to end it.

Video ****

New Line scores once again with a most fantastic looking disc! The anamorphic picture is thoroughly crisp, clear and alive with tremendous detail and top-notch color display. Despite the fact that 1970s culture is the butt of many jokes here, the setting looks most authentic and super stylish, thanks to the terrific picture quality.

Audio ***1/2

Leave it to New Line to add some boost to any movie, no matter what genre. The 5.1 mix has the added bonus of Dolby EX, which brings quite a lot to this sports comedy. The basketball action plays out terrifically good. Add in crowd noise in various scenes, superb dialogue delivery, as well as the bumpin’ and groovy 70s music on the soundtrack (let’s not forget Jackie’s song, “Love Me Sexy”), and you’ve got quite a slam dunk of a presentation.

Features ***1/2

This 2-Disc release, appropriately titled the Let’s Get Sweaty Edition, is indeed the one to go with, as a single disc release will also be available. For one thing, this is the only edition containing the Unrated Extended version, which includes seven additional minutes. The theatrical version is also included.

No commentary to be found here, but the extras (all on Disc Two) are in perfect supply. Included are Deleted Scenes, as well as scenes of Improv. We also get six well made featurettes; “A Short History of the ABA”, “Re-creating the ABA”, “Love Me Sexy-The Story Behind the One Hit Wonder”, “Bill Walton Visits the Set”, “Four Days in Flint” and “The Man Behind Semi-Pro”. Lastly, we get the music video for “Love Me Sexy”, some bonus Flint Tropics Hot Talk with Dick Pepperfield and Trailers for the movie.

Summary:

Semi-Pro is a worthy sports comedy that gets its strength from Will Ferrell’s trademark zaniness, as well as the supporting cast. Basketball and the 70s both provide a great backdrop for the movie’s many laughs.

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