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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Semi-Pro (review)

Slam Gunk

I’m so tired of hearing myself complaining about these movies that I may just give it up. The entire genre of “comedy” has been taken over by movies that can’t decide what the hell they are, relegating competently executed funny films to the subgenres of “dramedy” or “black comedy.” This is what we’ve come to: When a comedy works nowadays, we can no longer call it simply “a comedy” lest it be confused with these incoherent mishmashes.
These incoherent mishmashes. Are they juvenile grossouts? Sentimental dramas? Cultural satires? Hell, why can’t they be all that, and more? Except they can’t. Maybe they could if the perpetrators of them had something approaching an idea about how to make multiple and wildly varied tones mesh. But they don’t, so they don’t bother. They just swing with thoughtless abandon from one posture to another. Bam! Here’s a vomit joke! Bam! Here’s a tenderly romantic moment! Bam! Here’s something that’ll make you titter uncomfortably about sex if you’re still in junior high! Bam! Here’s where you’re supposed to get all teary-eyed over the triumph of the underdog team! Bam! Here’s something that makes no logical sense in either a drama or a grossout!

Forget entertainment aimed at those with short attention spans: Semi-Pro — and all the many movies like it these days — works only if you have no attention span. None. I mean, seriously, if you cannot remember anything from one moment to the next, then you might possibly find this mildly amusing. Or mildly dramatic. Cuz Will Ferrell’s (Blades of Glory, Stranger Than Fiction) clueless dork of a one-hit-wonder pop star slash pro basketball player slash team owner slash promoter is not, in itself, an incompetently rendered portrait of, you know, clueless dorkiness. It just belongs in a different movie, one that does not also feature Woody Harrelson (No Country for Old Men, A Scanner Darkly), in a not incompetently rendered portrait of an NBA benchwarmer who comes aboard Ferrell’s ABA team in an attempt to whip them into shape so they can measure up to NBA standards. And it certainly does not belong in a movie in which the wonderful Maura Tierney (Welcome to Mooseport, Scotland, PA) is called upon to render a portrait of a woman in love with a man — that would be Harrelson’s fuckup — who isn’t capable of loving himself, never mind someone else. (Tierney is so exquisite, as she always is, that it’s painful to imagine what brought her so low as to agree to bestow her talent upon this movie, which is not worthy of it.) I mean, is this a Bugs Bunny cartoon, or is it a sensitive indie period piece?

The period? The 1970s, our go-to era of the moment when we need a carnival atmosphere. The laziness of Scot Armstrong’s script in all respects is appalling, but most often, perhaps, when it come to the era. (Then again, he wrote the recent dreadful update of The Heartbreak Kid, so not being appalling does not appear to be a concern of his.) Sure, the story needs to be set here, because Ferrell’s ABA team, the Flint, Michigan Tropics, needs to find a way to survive the league’s merger with the NBA, and that actually happened in the 70s, so, okay. And without question there was some weird shit going on in the 70s with people mixing plaids and such. But Armstrong is so unwilling to make any effort whatsoever that he feels he can merely point to things and that makes them funny. Look! Fondue! It’s like the audience actually is expected not to be able to make it three lines of dialogue later to a punchline.

Which makes it honesty impossible for me to complain about the followup on the whole “jive-talker” thing. A bit early in the film sets up the idea of “jive-talker” being the worst insult this gang of idiots can imagine. Okay, fine. But then later on, Ferrell’s character is sputtering around, trying to find the worst insult he can find to throw down at his team. What does he settle on? “Motherfucking cocksucker.” Seriously. But to be fair to the movie, this comes, like, a good 45 minutes after the jive-talker bit, and who could be expected to retain the concept of “jive-talker” as an insult — on top of the corndog joke without a punchline and the extended unfunny conversation about porn, never mind the fondue — for such a ridiculous length of time?

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MPAA: rated R for language and some sexual content

viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

official site | IMDb
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  • Ryan H

    So, and I’m just making sure I have this straight, you didn’t like the movie?

  • MaryAnn

    No, pretty much not. :->

  • PaulW

    We need to start working on our own comedy, just to show Hollywood how it’s really done… now, let’s place it in the early 80s… hmmm, make the main characters a quartet of geeky D&D RPGers… and one of them is babysitting a neighbor’s house while the wealthy neighbors travel to Grenada for a getaway right before the Cuban-pushed coup… throw in a red Porsche… cameo appearances by the two Coreys… soundtrack by Tangerine Dream… have a subplot involving a flux capacitor… hmm, think Paramount will throw $30 million at this turkey?! (wicked grin)

  • MaryAnn

    The thing that drives me crazy is that the sheer incompetence of *Semi-Pro* will not prevent it from being the biggest movie of the weekend. This turkey will turn a hefty profit, so there’s no reason why we won’t keep seeing these dumb movies.

  • Dutchee

    What’s worst of all, it was (apparently) at least partially based on the book LOOSE BALLS by Terry Pluto, which i’ve heard from many i trust is a HILARIOUS book. but you know, it’s REAL, not fictional. so heavens forfend hollywood NOT try and dumb it down, make it abjectly stupid and worthless.

    i guess i had just hoped they’d write a fictional story/framework around the “real” stuff from that book, but from everything i’ve seen and heard, it seems like typical Stupid, low-brow humor with only a vague nod to the real history.

    it’s a shame… but at least i’ll save money by NOT even renting it:-)

  • hdj

    yeah I dunno Mj, It seems like all you do is down these odd ball movies. It’s like you forgot what funny is. You know, like chill out smoke a joint or something.
    Half of my friends already saw this movie,and tomorrow I’ll be seeing this since I need a good laugh. Regardless too your negative review.
    You seem to be like one of the 2 reviewers who didn’t like this movie, and if you don’t believe me just check who on top of the box office this week.

  • MaryAnn

    *Semi-Pro* is only 25 percent Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. So there are quite a few more than two critics who didn’t like the film.

    But you’re right: I clearly don’t find anything funny. Which is why I never, ever give good reviews to comedies. There must be something wrong with me.

  • MBI

    “You seem to be like one of the 2 reviewers who didn’t like this movie, and if you don’t believe me just check who on top of the box office this week.”

    Too easy.

    Anyways, I saw this. Definitely better than “Blades of Glory,” there’s some real heart in this. Of course, it neither needed nor had any use for that heart, but I respect it for giving it the college try. It occurs to me if that Woody Harrelson were the main character and Jackie Moon the side character, to be deployed sparingly a la John Belushi in Animal House. Even with that change, this would be a pretty damn formulaic movie. Slap Shot, anyone? Major League?

  • Major League is classic: “Juuuuust a bit outside.”

  • E

    Dewey cox, oh you devil you! (Linked to as a good comedy) I was so inundated with advertisements for this movie that I saw it a month after release at the urging of my brother, begrudgingly attending. And my lord, hilarious. The Bob Dylan parody scene was worth paying 6.50 to see the film.

    I enjoy Will Ferrel, but I agree the same ol’ schitck is wearing thin. The problem with these comedies is what you already pointed out, no ability for sustained comedy. The stupid ____ movie franchise are proof (date movie etc). Where its “what’s the first gag I can think of for each parsed out scene, lets throw that in”. This more often then not results in a hit to the crotch.

  • JoshDM

    So, I saw the trailer for “The Onion: The Movie” or whatever they’re calling it. Surprisingly, and this is topical between the two of us, MAJ, it reminds me a lot of an updated version of “Kentucky Fried Movie”. A remake, almost.

  • JoshDM

    N.B. this message (above) coming from the reader who is probably the reason why this site still does not have a review of Munich on it – because I recommended you watch “Sword of Gideon”, and Netflix still hasn’t sent it to you.

  • MaryAnn

    You can all rest assured, dear readers, that none of you are the reason why there isn’t a review of any particular movie here. I simply can’t review everything, that’s all.

  • MaineRoad

    I saw a reviewer, perhaps it was you, who compared these Ferrell films to old Marx Brothers stuff – no real plot, just a series of gags held together, to the extent they were held together at all, by a sort of generalized premise. I think that’s pretty much right; but, of course, the problem is that Will is no Groucho (or Zeppo or Gummo). There was a real funny movie to be made here, but no one even tried. Things, I guess, are supposed to be funny because they are “70’s” things – like fondue, as you mentioned. It reminds me of Spike Lee’s lazy “Crooklyn,” in which, I guess, we were all supposed to sit around and go “oh, yeah, Rock-em Sock-em Robots; those were cool,” so as not to notice that virtually nothing was going on on the screen.

  • MaryAnn

    I love the Marx Brothers. I would never have likened them to Ferrell.

  • JoshDM

    So did you see “Sword of Gideon” yet?

  • MaryAnn

    No, I haven’t. Sorry.

  • Ezra

    I think what you’re forgetting is the absolute lack of quality standards held by people who are fans of this type (or of any Ferrell) movie. Case in point… the hdj person above. Is this movie horrible in just about every facet of movie making? Of course. It seems people are so desperate for a laugh, a few seconds of feel-good that they are willing to shell out $11 (here in nyc) and ignore the 89.5 other minutes of garbage. Perhaps optimism is the driving force behind the non-stop crappy movies =P

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