Will Ferrell is no stranger to sports movies. He was a hyper-competitive youth soccer coach in Kicking and Screaming, then sped to box-office victory in the NASCAR comedy Talladega Nights, and pirouetted to audience acclaim as a figure skater in Blades of Glory. Now he looks for a slam dunk in the basketball comedy Semi-Pro. Unfortunately, this film is going to be called on account of unbridled stupidity.
Ferrell is Jackie Moon, Flint, Michigan's second favorite son. He's a one-hit wonder recording artist who used all his money and fame to buy the American Basketball Association team, the Tropics. It's 1976 and the ABA, known for its fast-paced, flamboyant play and technical innovations such as the three-point shot, is about to be assimilated into the NBA (yes, this part really happened).
The bad news is that the Tropics are the worst team in the league and are just barely keeping their financial heads above water. If they are to make the merger, they must finish the season as one of the top four teams. Anything less and they will be disbanded. For Jackie and his decidedly soggy Tropics to survive and play another day, they will need a miracle.
The miracle comes in the form of Ed Monix (Woody Harrelson), a former NBA benchwarmer now way past his prime, who returns to his hometown of Flint to coach the team to almost guaranteed defeat. As much as the trailers might make this out to be Ferrell's movie, the emotional core—such as it is—belongs to Harrelson, who finds, in his return home, a chance for personal redemption. He also sees the opportunity to rekindle a romance with his old flame, Lynn (Maura Tierney).
But winning is not enough—the Tropics must prove they are financially viable and can draw thousands of fans. And these days, the few fans the Tropics have come mostly for the scantly clad cheerleaders. If running plays is Monix's arena, outlandish promotions are Jackie's. During each game's halftime, Jackie sets up one spectacular contest after another. From choreographed dance routines to Evel Knievel stunts and bear wrestling, Jackie's bizarre promotions certainly attract crowds, but they just may get everyone killed.
Semi-Pro feels like it was scribed by junior high schoolers in the boys locker room, with jokes and situations that come off about as coherent and intelligent as one might expect from such an illustrious source. Writer Scot Armstrong (Old School) has rehashed the all-too-familiar underdog sports story and filled it with imbecilic, adolescent jokes with punch lines telegraphed minutes ahead of time, if they appear at all.
Semi-Pro is as authentically 1970s as Austin Powers resembled the swinging '60s. The disco-saturated music is certainly fun and the hair and clothes elicit chuckles, but they are, perhaps, the only genuine, unadulterated laughs in the film.
Semi-Pro makes the mistake of confusing vulgarity with comedy, trading laughs for a broken record of potty humor, pervasive sexual innuendo and rampant tastelessness. This is the sort of rowdy, sexualized humor one finds only in locker rooms and really brainless movies. Jackie and his teammates spend the entire film articulating pornography, even if they never actually show it.