Semi-Pro” is a concept that seemed like a slam dunk. With a retro premise based loosely on a beloved part of sports history and the addition of the usually reliable Will Ferrell, there is no way this couldn’t be a success, right?
Not so fast, my friend.
“Pro” proves to be more miss than hit, with some spotty comedic moments and a story that is really nothing more than spare parts of much better films in the same genre.
Ferrell plays Jackie Moon, the owner, player and coach of the ABA’s Flint Michigan Tropics. Moon dreams of the day when his franchise will hit the big time and believes his time has arrived when he learns the ABA is about to merge with the NBA.
Those dreams quickly fade to nightmares when it is revealed that only four teams will join the NBA, and Flint isn’t one of those teams.
Moon convinces the league to determine the four teams based on performance in the final season, and then tries to do everything he can to make sure his franchise finishes the year in the top four.
Ferrell is funny at almost anything, and he does have his moments here, but he is stuck in a film that has no one else to match his over-the-top antics - like John C. Reilly in “Talladega Nights” or Jon Heder in “Blades of Glory.” Ferrell’s character just seems like it is stuck in the middle of a film that can’t decide if it wants to be “Major League,” “Slap Shot” or practically any other sports comedy ever made - and first-time director Kent Alterman looks like an out-of-his-league rookie.
The rest of the cast is wasted.
Woody Harrelson appears to be is sleepwalking through his role as the aging veteran looking for one last bit of glory, while Maura Tierney is underused as a former love interest.
About the only person who manages to get any laughs is Jackie Earle Haley, who plays a drugged-out hippy strung along by Moon after he wins a halftime promotion that is supposed to net him $10,000.
I’ll admit I did laugh some at “Semi-Pro.” When Moon wrestles a bear, it is funny. And a poker game that turns into a bizarre match of Russian roulette has a weird, yet laughable vibe. Unfortunately, those moments are few and far between, making this a major disappointment.
But Ferrell fans take note, I wasn’t a fan of “Anchorman” when it came out either - although I’ve grown to appreciate that film. It’s safe to say that “Semi-Pro” won’t age as gracefully as its predecessor.
DVD dandy of the week
This week’s dandy is “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead” (A-), a sleazy yet intriguing thriller where bad people continue to make major mistakes that manage to shatter their lives and everyone’s around them.
Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke play Andy and Hank Hanson, two financially strapped brothers who think they have a solution to their problems when they organize a robbery of their parents’ jewelry story.
But the job goes horribly wrong, triggering a series of events that leaves everyone spiraling toward a tragic conclusion.
This material is quite uncomfortable to watch, but it is in the perfectly capable hands of director Sidney Lumet. The 83-year-old has always had an eye for the seedy side with films like “Prince of the City,” “The Verdict” and “Dog Day Afternoon,” so he is in his element again with a sharp film that manages to make sense out of all the internal madness.
The cast is first-rate as well.
Hoffman had three great roles in 2007, but his performance as the shady and desperate Andy was easily the best work of all. This is a character that really has no reason for the audience to feel sorry for him, but he still manages to be sympathetic.
Hawke gives his best performance in a while as the weaker of the two brothers, while Albert Finney, as Andy and Hank’s father, and Marissa Tomei, as Hank’s wife who is secretly having an affair with Andy, is also very good.
“Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead” didn’t get a major run in theaters, but it deserves a new life on home video.
“Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead” is rated R for strong graphic sexuality, nudity, violence, drug use and language and is now available on DVD.