On "Saturday Night Live," Will Ferrell was a utility player. He could play regular guys -- fathers, businessmen, doctors -- as well as bizarre characters, central or supporting. And in any case, he was nearly always funny. He improved almost every sketch he was in.
He's now doing for movies what he did for "SNL": He's always funny, even if the films he's in don't quite cut it. In "Blades of Glory," he plays Chazz Michael Michaels, a disgraced, bad-boy figure-skater (an "ice dancing sex tornado," someone calls him) who returns to competition by teaming up with his former rival to create the first-ever same-sex figure-skating pair. Ferrell is a comedic workhorse, as usual, with his mix of physical awkwardness and verbal non-sequiturs ("I could not love a human baby as much as I love this brush!" he says of his favorite hair-styling appliance), but the film is only slightly better than so-so. I think Ferrell is a genius, but there's only so much even a genius can do.
He's paired with Jon Heder as Jimmy MacElroy, a goody-two-shoes golden child who's like Shirley Temple on the ice (his signature move: the Galloping Peacock). As a young orphan, Jimmy was hand-picked by a millionaire (William Fichtner) to receive state-of-the-art training and be turned into a perfect figure skater. Now Jimmy is a wholesome, non-threatening naif who's appalled at the rogue behavior of his rival Chazz, and it's a tussle with him that gets them both tossed out of the World Winter Sports Games.
Jimmy's old coach (Craig T. Nelson) gets the idea of pairing Jimmy and Chazz. They've both been banned from singles competition, but not from pairs, and while there's never been a same-sex pair on the ice before, there's no rule against it. So why not! Especially when it will lead to giggly homoeroticism!
It's a silly idea, of course, and it's a silly movie, directed by Josh Gordon and Will Speck (short-film makers working on their first feature) and written by at least four guys (including a couple "King of the Hill" scribes). It feels small and short, with an extremely simple plot -- the new Chazz/Jimmy pair faces competition from embittered sibling skaters Stranz (Will Arnett) and Fairchild (Amy Poehler) Van Waldenberg -- and a throwaway subplot in which the Van Waldenbergs coerce their sister Katie (Jenna Fischer) into spying on the boys to learn their routine. Jimmy gets a crush on Katie, but I get the feeling that angle is included only to remind us that Jimmy isn't gay. (For his part, Chazz is a sex addict. He goes to meetings and everything.)
There are plenty of laughs, mostly courtesy of Ferrell and the awesome husband-and-wife duo of Will Arnett and Amy Poehler. But a lot of potential laughs are ruined by something that strikes at the very heart of the movie's conceit: Ferrell and Heder are not a good pair. Specifically, Heder, while legendary as Napoleon Dynamite, simply lacks the skills to be a good straight man, or even a good actor. All of his set-ups for Ferrell's punch lines SOUND like set-ups, recited in an over-earnest way by an actor out of his depth. It's reminiscent of when an athlete (or Robert De Niro) appears on "SNL" and none of his lines sound natural because they're being read without nuance from cue cards.
Chazz is the type of character Ferrell excels at -- a self-important idiot who believes he is sexier than he is -- and I suspect Jimmy represents the apex of Heder's acting skills. As likable as the guy is, he's not in his league here. The film is modestly entertaining, but it would have been much funnier if Ferrell had had a more qualified partner to work with.
There are alternate soundtracks in Spanish and French, as well as subtitles in English, Spanish, and French. Most of the extras are subtitled, too.
VIDEO: The anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) transfer is pristine and clear. The colors are strong. No significant edge enhancement or other flaws.
AUDIO: Dolby Digital 5.1. Good mix, good balance.
EXTRAS: There's a metric buttload of them! And pretty good ones, too. A lot of different aspects (costumes, teaching the actors to ice skate, etc.) are covered adequately without overdoing it and getting boring.
For example, it's interesting to see the costume designer talk about how she came up with the various odd things Ferrell and Heder wear ... but it wouldn't be interesting for 20 minutes, not for most of us. Five minutes is great, and that's what we get here. Not too much, not too little.
All of the extras feature on-set interviews with the main cast, as well as the directors and various other associated crew members. In general, everyone is pretty funny, and no one takes anything seriously. That's a constant.
The only thing really missing is a director's commentary. The co-directors who made the film appear in the extras and seem to be funny, good-natured guys. Why not do a commentary?
"Return to Glory: The Making of 'Blades'" (14:48) is your standard making-of doc, with a special appearance by producer Ben Stiller. ("It's always been a dream of mine since I was about 8 to do a movie about male figure-skating.... It's fun to finally be able to realize that dream.")
"Celebrities on Thin Ice" (6:05) talks about teaching non-skaters to skate, with comments from the tireless choreographer who was given the difficult task.
"Cooler Than Ice: The Super-Sexy Costumes of Skating" (4:39) is the aforementioned just-right costume doc. Ferrell: "It's the first time I've ever been interviewed in a unitard of any sort, but let alone a bejeweled one."
"Arnett & Poehler: A Family Affair" (5:51) sort of tries to be a serious interview with married couple Will Arnett and Amy Poehler, but mostly it's the comedians being wise-crackers. I think the two are hilarious, though I'm aware there are some who don't find them funny at all.
"20 Questions with Scott Hamilton" (5:01) is what it sounds like. The pro skater who appears as a commentator in the film is a good sport and cracks a couple of decent jokes himself.
"Hector: Portrait of a Psychofan" (3:24) has Nick Swardson in character as Jimmy's stalker, telling us about his love for the skater. This depends on your tolerance for Nick Swardson, which runs low for me.
Four deleted scenes (9:05 total) are as funny as anything in the movie; they were obviously cut for time or story reasons, not because they weren't any good. One scene, in particular, offers some background on Jimmy and Chazz's rivalry that doesn't appear in the film. (Here's another time when it would have been good for the directors to comment on the scenes, at least to explain why they were cut.)
The gag reel (2:07) is rather short, considering all the clowning you know went on with this film. It's funny as far as it goes, though.
The alternate takes (8:40) is where it's at, particularly if you're a Will Ferrell fan. His ability to re-do a scene a hundred times and ad-lib different lines every time is genuinely impressive, not to mention very, very funny. His improvisations while leaving voice-mails for Jimmy are classic, and they seemingly go on forever. ("Are you trying to look like Glenn Close from 'Fatal Attraction'? Because kudos to you, you are pulling off that look. You are nailing it!")
There's a music video (4:38) by Bo Bice of a song called "Blades of Glory," evidently inspired by one of the deleted scenes.
Also included is the "Moviefone Unscripted" (9:53) promotional segment featuring Ferrell, Heder, and Arnett. Heder is out of his league when it comes to general quick-thinking and joke-cracking, but he's good-natured. The two Wills crack each other up quite a bit.
Finally, there are some photo galleries, brief MTV commercials (1:30 total), and previews for other DVDs.
This doesn't go into Ferrell's catalogue of classics like "Anchorman," but it's no "Bewitched," either. The DVD is very solid, too, with only a few minor drawbacks. It's a good buy.
(Note: Most of the "movie review" portion of this article comes from the review I wrote when the movie was released theatrically. I have re-watched it in the course of reviewing the DVD, however.)