‘Semi-Pro’ Shoots Mostly Airballs
You’ve seen come from behind sports flicks previously. Here, Will Ferrell plays a 1976 musical one-hit wonder who used the money to buy an American Basketball League franchise, the Flint (Michigan) Tropics. The league’s doormat then learns that only the Top Four teams will move next year to the NBA.
“Semi Pro” bounces every underdog cliche you can expect, but the film dribbles more like a series of comedy sketches built around a hoops theme. At least one hits from three-point range, others score field goals and a few free throws. Most qualify as air balls or slam dunks that go afoul.
Ferrell’s best at concocting zany WWE styled promotions for the usual cellar dwelling, attendance lagging team, turning the announcement of the starting line up into a sideshow. On the other hand, the constant money crunch delivers cool gags, but the team continues finding the venue open and ready for a game.
Winning a glitzy, big (ceremonial), big check for a drunken full court basket scores particularly well since the poor vagrant looking winner has little familiarity with banking, which leads to multiple variations on attempts to cash a four-foot ceremonial check and obtain a real check. Award them field goals for the cheesy, somewhat unexpected Russian roulette gag and the “has anyone seen the bear” sequence.
Most of the gags surround the creation of nearly impossible to win contests, which added creditors to his already drained bank account. Be they free cheese sticks for all (if the team scored 125 points) or trading appliances for a down and out NBA player, Ferrell’s spontaneous, though irrational, business fixes simply bounce average absurdities on to the court with patented overly worn cliches of the doormat team’s revival.
Set in 1976, aside from the ABA, long hair, pastel clothing, and a few musical oldies, the film neglects opportunities to inject witty cultural variances. The ‘70s ramifications go nowhere beyond costume and set decoration. Even hints at the more liberal sexuality of the era stays firmly with dancing bikini and boot ‘[basket]ball girls’ as window dressing. Thus, the R rating comes from 21st Century language taboos, rather than more liberal ‘70s content (such as “Good Luck Chuck”). Remove the naughty words and it’s mostly a PG rated feature.
“Semi Pro” caters conspicuously to the feel good movie audience credo, no matter how many reality stretches through unacceptable business practices, necessary to maximize happy outcomes (and raising the bar plot complications).
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