Will Farrell Takes Up Old School Basketball

Maui Time | February 26, 2008
Will Farrell loiters in the comfort of his signature punch-drunk delivery of outrageous lines and sight gags in a '70s era parody that extends the funk vibe of Judd Apatow's summer comedy Superbad. In Flint, Michigan, Jackie Moon (Farrell) is an R&B singer, basketball team owner, team player, and promoter for the Flint Tropics, a team playing under the rules of the American Basketball Association. The movie opens to the strains of Farrell crooning "We're naked and we're humping sexy" from a Jackie Moon song called "Love Me Sexy," written with lyrics stolen from Jackie's deceased mother. The song's humorous effect expands as Jackie sings it to a sparse coliseum crowd with an infectious glee. Intent on winning the Tropics a place among teams merging into the NBA, the afro-haired Jackie hires Monix (Woody Harrelson), a former benchwarmer for the champion Boston Celtics, to lead the Tropics to victory in their last season. In spite of its fractured sketch comedy design, Semi-Pro provides a requisite number of Saturday Night Live-type laughs to keep audiences satisfied.

Screenwriter Scot Armstrong (Old School) keeps the comedy visual and the language profane in a movie you won't be seeing on your next commercial airline flight. Will Farrell has, by osmosis with screenwriters, branded his dry underplayed slapstick spaz attacks. The aging frat boy character that he created in Armstrong's Old School has gone from a bedeviled racecar driver (Talladega Nights) to a sexually challenged championship ice skater (Blades of Glory), to a do-it-all basketball player in an economically challenged city of Flint, circa 1976.

There's a blue-collar theme that runs under the '70s era setting, and carries a sense of America's current recession and weak dollar. Monix takes the job with Jackie Moon's team in exchange for a washing machine, and to be near his ex-girlfriend Lynn (Maura Tierney). The romantic subplot serves as a perfunctory placeholder that never jibes with the zany comedy situations. Woody Harrelson is distinctly unfunny opposite Will Farrell because he never catches up to the comic timing around him, and Maura Tierney looks great never gets to establish her character's straight-man charm. Harrelson's casting is a flaw that begs questions about which other cast members might have handled the role better.

Will Farrell has become the Bill Murray of his day. He's a staple Indiewood actor for a type of self-effacing comedy that's dependable for its lack of cynicism. You know that his movies will feel slender, but you'll get your money's worth of laughs. Semi-Pro isn't an earnest comedy like Knocked Up, but it mocks the modern age of political correctness with a passion that comes through especially in irreverent supporting performances from Andre Benjamin, Jackie Earle Haley, Will Arnett, and Andrew Daly, who plays a suggestible television sportscaster. Nostalgia for the bad old days of the '70s in America can only mean one thing; the 21st century still hasn't found its footing.

Rated R, 90 mins. (B-)

Maui Time

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