What is it with Will Ferrell these days? For every Elf and Anchorman, there's a Bewitched not too far behind. I've heard the unsubstantiated claim that Ferrell is supposedly doing some sort of "humbled everyman reject" saga of sports films or something, but let's take a look at Ferrell's sporting-related filmography in recent years; you've got Talladega Nights and Blades of Glory, both of which were comedic dogs, let's face it. So why, oh why, is he going back to a presumably dry well?
Semi-Pro was written by Scot Armstrong (Old School) and directed by Kent Alterman. This is Alterman's directing debut, as he's previously produced such critically-acclaimed fare as Little Children and A History of Violence. He's also produced The Man and Son of the Mask, and his directing merits for this film appear to be a longstanding proclivity for defunct basketball leagues. Ferrell plays Jackie Moon, who was responsible for the funky one-hit wonder "Love Me Sexy" in the '70s. Ferrell took the money from that success and parlayed it into a stake of a team in the American Basketball Association. He moved the team to Michigan and became the owner/coach/player of the Flint Tropics. As the ABA is on the verge of merging with the NBA, Jackie finds out that his team will not be one of those that stays around, so he proposes a performance-based system designed to hopefully get his team a shot at viability, and he is willing to do whatever he can to realize this.
Even though people tend to cite Ferrell's other work as the reason why Semi-Pro shouldn't have been made, one of the many reasons why much of what occurs here doesn't work is that much appears to be lifted note for note from Slap Shot, which was another sports film set in the '70s about a professional team in the throes of its existence. Ferrell plays the Reg Dunlop type, while the Ned Braden role seems to be split among a couple of people in the film, as the aging vet Monix (Woody Harrelson, Kingpin) comes to the team to provide leadership, while "Coffee" Black (Andre Benjamin of Outkast lore) is the young aspiring talent who wishes to play in the NBA. And what differentiates Slap Shot from Semi-Pro are a couple of things, first off, the fact that the Slap Shot characters took the ridiculous nature of their circumstances and still did what they could with them in a serious manner, while in Semi-Pro the characters seem to play things for a laugh that doesn't pay off, all the time remembering that they're basking in the clothes and hair of the era and almost saying "look, we're in the '70s!" The other thing that separates Slap Shot from this film is that Slap Shot was, you know, funny.
Aside from the annoying way the main characters try to convince you that they're funny, let me rattle off some names for you; Will Arnett (Arrested Development), Maura Tierney (NewsRadio), Andy Richter (Andy Richter Controls the Universe), Rob Corddry (The Daily Show). All of these people have spent some time in and around comedy, yet they contribute nothing of any real worth to the film, and this is a huge disappointment. The story of Semi-Pro seems to try and link tired Ferrell antics together, and the cast either seemingly sleepwalks through the entire film, or any chance of improvisation was presumably excised in the editing room. It's not like some originality could have damaged the film in any way, as the dialogue and film events were so wholly predictable that my wife and I started looking at the clock less than 20 minutes into the film, just to see how long this nostalgia trip was going to be. I didn't even rattle off all of the familiar comedic talents that appear in Semi-Pro, simply because I didn't want you to pity them as I did.
Ironic quote identification: in the supplemental material, Ferrell jokes about writing the idea down on a napkin, but to look at Semi-Pro from the larger perspective, it's a Will Ferrell comedy that's not funny, it's a historical film peppered with inconsistent dialogue here and there (I heard Benjamin's character say "What Up G?" late in the film, something I remember hearing frequently growing up in the mid and late '70s), and it's a sports film with not a lot of sports in it. It's the cinematic equivalent of the riddle, "if a tree falls, and no one is there to hear it, does it make a noise?" If a movie that is made and billed as a comedy has no laughs in it, did the film ever happen?
The Blu-ray Disc:
Presented in 2.35:1 widescreen using the VC-1 codec, Semi-Pro is basically here to replicate the '70s color palette as vividly as possible. So the Tropics team uniforms look good in their aqua glory, as well as the yellows, greens and other brighter colors in the palette. Fleshtones are quite warm and accurate, almost as if you can tell that the in-game perspiration is created rather than manufactured. As appears to be the case with New Line titles and this codec, there's not a lot of detail in the tighter shots and there's an almost complete lack of multidimensionality in the image overall, but hey, it's supposed to be all about the comedy, right? So for what Semi-Pro is here to do, it does it capably.
New Line gives Semi-Pro a 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track with all the bells and whistles. But hey, there's very little use of said accoutrements. Alterman seemed to have an urge for including several Sly and the Family Stone songs, and they all sound fine and possess a nice dynamic range to them. The action that occurs in the film possesses some occasional subwoofer engagement, and there's occasional speaker panning and directional effects, but most of what occurs in Semi-Pro is dialogue that's in the center channel for most of the feature. Like I mentioned before, considering we're talking about a sports comedy, it sounds good, but not great.
Another two-disc edition from New Line, this one entitled the "Let's Get Sweaty" edition. Ewww. In looking at the unrated vs. theatrical versions, the unrated version a little longer (1:38:27 vs. 1:31:24 on the theatrical) and contains mainly some extended jokes, along with a look at Jackie's wife whom he never sees. Getting past that, all of the extras are in high definition and two-channel DTS stereo, so that's something. However, selecting a particular section or area is accompanied by a quick Ferrell soundbite, and that's when things get a little bit annoying.
Moving onto disc two and the "Behind the Scenes" section, things start with "A Short Story of the ABA" (6:50) and recollections on the heyday of the league with George Gervin, Artis Gilmore and other ABA all-stars who appear in the film as extras. The style of play and the impact it had on the NBA is talked about, and it's an average piece. "Recreating the ABA" (12:46) covers the production side of things from the location, set and wardrobe design points of view. The athletes get put through a de facto hoops player boot camp of sorts, and the players and actors discuss their specific preparations and what they did to get along with one another. It's the usual self-indulgent piece on the production. "Love Me Sexy: The Story Behind the One Hit Wonder" (5:24) examines Ferrell's song and what musician Nile Rodgers did to put it all together in the process, and in other footage surrounding the music, wardrobe and other icons of the era, '70s hoops wunderkind Bill Walton visited the set to discuss how the film looked to him, which takes about three minutes out of your day. "Four Days in Flint" (5:38) is just that, as the cast and crew discuss the location shoot and what they liked about it. "The Man Behind Semi-Pro" (23:56) examines Armstrong's script and the filmmaker's affinity for it, and resembles more of a traditional making-of piece, describing how Ferrell became attached to it and how the pieces all came together. Alterman discusses what he liked about the material, and the cast talks about how generally awesome he is as a director, while Alterman talks about what the cast brought into the feature and what everyone thought of each other to boot. In the "Promotions" section, you've got the video for "Love Me Sexy," (1:59) followed by "Flint Tropics Hot Talk," (2:29) a pair of in-character faux-period interviews with Ferrell's character, aged to look like old video footage. They're cute, but a little tedious. The "Promotions" section houses the teaser, rated and unrated trailers, along with something called the "Super Agility Trainer," which is just another way of saying "pong with a basketball theme," and an exclusive feature to the Blu-ray disc.
If you want to truly see the best parts of this set, check out the "From the Cutting Room" section, which houses the deleted and alternate scenes (6:36) and some various improvised lines from some of the cast (8:38). The deleted scenes include an alternate opening and ending, both of which were easily better than the theatrical ones, not to mention an excised scene featuring Amy Sedaris (Strangers With Candy). The improvised footage features the comedic talents of Dick Pepperfield, known to many as Andrew Daly of the Upright Citizens Brigade and quite the underrated performer. Still, when 15 minutes of footage is the highlight of a two-disc set, you know you've got problems.
A quick related note; during the "Man Behind" featurette, there is a minute or two given to the whole scene where Jackie wrestles a bear. As the real bear actually did kill someone between the theatrical and DVD release windows, one would hope that this was given a second or third thought to include, but that's just one person's opinion.
Not only is this Will Ferrell film not funny, it's quite possibly not even his funniest film on Blu-ray to date. The sound and the video are nice, but when the film is so forgettable and unfunny, would you even want to watch it in high definition? As a separate standalone title, Semi-Pro is semi-worthy of perusing, and by semi, I mean not at all.