R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir Kent Alterman
scr Scot Armstrong
with Will Ferrell, Woody Harrelson, Andre Benjamin, Maura Tierney, Andy Richter, Will Arnett, Andrew Daly, David Koechner, Jackie Earle Haley, Kristen Wiig, Tim Meadows, Patti LaBelle
release US/UK 29.Feb.08
08/US New Line 1h31
Big hair, short shorts: Harrelson and Ferrell

harrelson benjamin tierney
Semi-Pro Will Ferrell combines his obsessions with sports (Talladega Nights, Blades of Glory) and the 1970s (Starsky & Hutch, Anchorman) for this goofy romp through the final season of the American Basketball Association in 1976. But the tone is far too uneven.

Jackie Moon (Ferrell) has expanded his one-hit-wonder singing success to become owner-player of the Flint, Michigan, Tropics, a fairly pathetic basketball team that refuses to simply fade away when the ABA merges with the NBA. If they can improve enough to be fourth in the league, they might survive. So Jackie hires fading hotshot Monix (Harrelson) to join his own star "Coffee" Black (Benjamin) and whip the team into shape. Gimmicky promotions ensue, from corndog night to Jackie wrestling with a bear. But the ABA commissioner (Koechner) keeps changing the rules.

There are hysterically inspired sequences scattered throughout this film, and they're just about enough to keep us entertained through the frequent dead zones of both rah-rah sports cliches and painfully unfunny set pieces that just won't come together as they should. The heartwarming drama sits awkwardly with the wacky slapstick--an admittedly difficult balance that this film never achieves.

As usual, Ferrell goes for broke with the character, fully inhabiting Jackie's desperation for fame and fearless showmanship. And the cast around him is lively and energetic, including an understated turn from Harrelson as the guy who shakes up Jackie's world. Most of the side players and cameos are hilarious. Although Haley's running gag isn't very clever, and Tierney is wasted in the thankless role as Monix's ex.

Director Alterman gets the 1970s vibe just right, loading the film with references to the period and making the whole thing into more of an homage than parody. The details are remarkable, and even the excessive elements (lurid clothing and very big hair) are actually quite accurate. Meanwhile, Armstrong's script weaves in lots of actual history with the wacky story of the fictional Tropics. So it's even more of a pity that he never manages to find the tone. It's certainly funny enough for a late-night out, but it's just not nearly as good as die-hard Ferrell fans will think it is.

cert 15 themes, language, vulgarity 18.Feb.08

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