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).

Will Ferrell as Jackie Moon

Will Ferrell as Jackie Moon

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.

Andre Benjamin as Clarence

Andre Benjamin as Clarence

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.

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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.

When we first meet Lynn, she is in a relationship with Kyle (Rob Corddry), who may or may not be her husband. Perhaps he is her boyfriend. Or maybe her brother. The film never bothers to make this clear. Whatever the nature of their relationship, Kyle doesn't seem to mind that Monix is back in town and even enjoys watching he and Lynn in the "throes of passion," if you get my meaning. The ambiguity of the Lynn/Kyle relationship, compiled with the inherent vulgarity of the situation, make for just one example of Semi-Pro's offensive nature.

Woody Harrelson as Ed Monix

Woody Harrelson as Ed Monix

One reoccurring character is that of Father Pat (Matt Walsh), the priest by day and head referee by night who simply pulls his striped uniform over his ecclesiastical garb for each game. Far from being the film's singular example of virtue, Father Pat is prone to bouts of rage, bursts of profanity and, by the film's end, dalliances with half-naked women.

It's not simply that Semi-Pro is bad, it's that it has the appearance of a film actively doing everything in its power to be rotten as it can possibly be. At one point in the film, after making a cruel joke at the expense of another person's feelings, Harrelson's character takes an emotional step backward and questions/confesses, "Still not funny?" No Woody, not by a long shot.

Despite a riotous cast and a battery of what should be hilarious cameos, Semi-Pro shoots and misses the mark by a wide margin. Even the usually reliable Ferrell falls flat, prompting one to wonder if this film is uniquely bad or if Ferrell's brand of humor has finally reached its critical mass.

"Is there such a thing as an F minus?" one reviewer asked me as we filed out of the theater. If there is, it was invented for films such as this. Semi-Pro is the sort of film you'd describe as laughably bad except for the fact that you wouldn't want anyone to get the wrong idea by seeing the film's title and the word laughter together in the same sentence.

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Semi-Pro has utterly no redeeming value, spiritual or otherwise.

>Talk About It

Discussion starters
  1. Monix sees his return home to coach the Flint, Michigan Tropics as a chance at redemption. Do you feel he finds it?
  2. Jackie Moon loves to push the phrase, "Everyone Love Everyone." In what moments do the characters live up to that ideal? In what moments do they not?
  3. Did the character of Father Pat offend you? Why do you think the filmmakers decided to make his character a priest?

The Family Corner

For parents to consider

Semi-Pro is rated R for language and sexual content. While there is no nudity, there are several sexual situations. There isn't a joke that is some way or another isn't explicitly about sex. The language too, pervasive throughout the film, is sexually colored. This film arguably moves right past "use discernment" to "skip it all together."

What other Christian critics are saying:

Our Rating
½ Stars - Poor
Average Rating
(1 user ratings)ADD YOURSHelp
Mpaa Rating
R (for language and some sexual content)
Directed By
Kent Alterman
Run Time
1 hour 31 minutes
Will Ferrell, Woody Harrelson, André 3000
Theatre Release
February 29, 2008 by New Line Cinema
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