By Fred Topel | Image property of New Line Cinema.
Semi-Pro is classic Will Ferrell. I found it hard to even take notes and articulate what it is exactly he does. It should be enough to just say he's funny, but of course I'm pretentious and I have to analyze comedy.
Right away the opening song is Ferrell deep in character, as are the visual gags establishing his place in the 1970s basketball world. As soon as he has lines to speak, he makes inappropriate jokes that the film carries to the extreme boundaries.
The latest Ferrell character, Jackie Moon, is as abrasive as everyone but Buddy the Elf. He is blatantly straightforward declaring the obvious at increasingly hilarious decibles, and approaches silliness logically. He talks during the game so that the film never wastes too much time with actual basketball. Since Moon does everything – owns the team, coaches the team, plays on the team, sings – it gives Ferrell ample opportunity.
It feels like everyone is riffing. They're never off topic, but their jokes feel natural as comic situations evolve. The sportscasters played by Will Arnett and Andrew Daly have their own situational dynamic, but it's mainly Ferrell directing the absurdity and everyone else keeping up.
There are tangents but they are in keeping with the characters. When they go off explaining the value of porn, it's because these loser basketball players and their frustrated sportscaster friends would be obsessed with porn and discuss it at length. There are some elaborate setups that milk the situations to fruition.
Semi-Pro is rated R for language, and it's surprising that they only used the R to say some profanity. They use the profanity for maximum comic effect, but they didn't go for any nudity or violence. There is a certain innocence to the profanity though, especially given the things that really offend them.
Woody Harrelson plays the straight man, a real NBA player who wants to take over coaching and teach real basketball. He's the straight man and provides the film's reality, if not exactly its heart. You do root for the silly team, barely, but enough to qualify as a sports movie.
The film has fun with the '70s, from the inherently funny costumes to early Michael Jackson jokes. Mainly, it's amazing there are still things we haven't seen Will Ferrell do and he commits to them fully.