Will Ferrell fans will experience a distinct sense of déjà vu watching his new laugher Semi-Pro, and not just because Ferrell is following up Talladega Nights, Kicking & Screaming, and Blades Of Glory with another jock comedy. Not since Dorf taught a grateful nation about the yuk-filled world of golf has one man done so much for the combined realms of sports and humor. Ferrell plays an ABA manager/player/owner who's part gimmick-crazy baseball legend Bill Veeck, part Righteous Brothers-style blue-eyed soul man, and part über-'70s horndog, a combination that seems a lot less promising once it becomes apparent that he's also essentially Ron Burgundy in basketball shorts. Ferrell has mastered the lucrative art of playing impulsive, likeably goofy man-children whose comic bravado far outstrips their actual talents. That makes this the perfect time to move on to other kinds of roles.
Tapping into the same deep/easy vein of '70s kitsch as Anchorman, Semi-Pro follows an eventful season for the Flint Tropics, a woeful ABA team facing extinction following the ABA's merger with the NBA. In performances that are equally comic and dramatic, Woody Harrelson and OutKast's André Benjamin co-star respectively as a banged-up, hard-working veteran drafted into leading the team, and a flashy, NBA-fixated superstar.
Semi-Pro deserves credit for attempting something more emotional and dramatic than the typical Ferrell gagfest, but Harrelson and Benjamin's earnest subplots cost the film comic momentum and big laughs without adding much in return. Ferrell still brings the funny like few superstars in his salary range, but there's a distinct decline in quality between the hilarious Anchorman, the sloppy but funny Blades Of Glory, and this affable, moderately amusing trifle. For Ferrell, sports comedies, and '70s camp, the law of diminishing returns has kicked in hard. The presence of Bad News Bears' Jackie Earle Haley in an amusing bit role as a burnt-out Tropics fan serves as a poignant reminder of a bygone era when sports comedies had filthy mouths and much bigger balls.