Comedian Will Ferrell graduated from the University of Southern California with a degree in Sports Information. This bit of trivia becomes significant when you take a look at his career and note that time after time he has been drawn to playing professional athletes.
There was Ricky Bobby in Talladega Nights, Phil Weston, an over-the-top soccer coach in Kicking and Screaming and championship skater Chazz Michael Michaels in Blades of Glory. In Semi Pro Ferrell is Jackie Moon the owner-coach-player of the American Basketball Association’s Flint Michigan Tropics. All that despite his complete lack of a sportsman’s body.
Set in 1976 Semi Pro takes place just as the nine year old wild and crazy outlaw league The ABA is about to merge its best teams with the more established and certainly more traditional NBA.
Ego maniac Jackie “I’m the greatest man in the world!” Moon (Ferrell) is a former pop star, a one hit wonder, whose tune Barry White inspired disco tune Love Me Sexy—“Let’s get sweaty. Let’s fill the bathtub with sweat”—earned enough cash for him to buy a basketball team, the Flint Michigan Tropics. Trouble is, they are the worst team in the league and will be faced with extinction when the merge goes through unless they turn things around.
Jackie tires everything to increase attendance at the games, including outlandish stunts like a roller skate jump over forty-seven feet of cheerleaders laid end-to-end and, in a scene that is definitely not PETA approved, wrestling a large angry bear. To score more points he trades the team’s old washing machine for washed-up ex-NBA player Monix, played by Woody Harrelson.
Unlike the bloated Blades of Glory which was simply a funnyish idea hung around Will Ferrell’s unbridled antics, Semi Pro actually has a fully fleshed out story and knows when to use, and more importantly not use Ferrell’s manic energy. A little of Ferrell can go a long way, and here, director Kent Alterman seems to understand that less is more. He’s dialed back on Ferrell’s screen time and uses him more effectively when he is on screen. Scenes don’t drag on too long, and at a tight hour-and-a-half it is punchier than Ferrell’s recent two plus hour comedy epics that contain as much dead air as laughs.
Semi Pro is a hybrid of sports movie—underdog team wants to prove their worth, although in this case they have the more humble goal of striving to come in at fourth place—seventies homage and Will Ferrell comedy. By reigning in Ferrell’s scattershot approach to comedy and using him only when necessary, Semi Pro delivers his best work since Anchorman.