Taken for what it is (a slipshod synthesis brought about by melding Talladega Nights with Juwanna Mann), Semi-Pro is digestible at best. Will Ferrell's newest filmic entry into the sporting world takes him into the American Basketball Association during the 1970s, but away from any surgically accurate comedic script or genuine originality. The jokes, each faded from countless rinse and reuse cycles, pay off sparingly and without any attention to rational human behavior or believability. As a result, Semi-Pro lives up to its name perhaps more than any other Ferrell feature out there.
The style comes stripped right from the '70s: an erythematic and flavorful blast of '70s culture is rolled into the film much the way it was infused in Ferrell's Anchorman, but with an extra load of funk and freshness. The set design, costumes and sound all play into the golden days of American basketball; these become perhaps the biggest triumph of the film.
In comedy films, the purpose is to be humorous. In R-rated comedies, the concept is to be filthy and humorous, but Semi-Pro regrettably rakes in the laughs only occasionally and leaves the rest of the movie open with silence where laughs should be. The grime and filth are only in small innuendos and are embarrassingly lame for a film in the company of such rigorous, raunchy absurdity as American Pie or Knocked Up. There are those moments of hilarity, but faulty set-ups and empty punch lines hastily bury them into the cinematic graveyard.
Ferrell is a flagrant ham of an actor, as always, but this time without the sparkling comedy that worked so well in Blades of Glory or even Kicking and Screaming. With support from Woody Harrelson, Will Arnett and Andre Benjamin (Andre 3000 of Outkast), the film carries along brainlessly. Much of the comedy comes from Arnett and Ferrell alone, and a strong cameo from the always-entertaining Tim Meadows. Unlike the other sports spoofs under Ferrell's belt, this one banks on a story that can be told in under five minutes and a climax that is only flattered by the lackluster resolution that follows. This is the worst Ferrell movie in a long time, yes, but it is still viewable when in the right mindset.
The comedy of sports has been popularized through the art of film for countless years. When putting this caliber of comedy up against juggernauts such as Slapshot, Caddyshack and Major League, however, the candle is out before the wick can even be lit. There can only be a minor comparison of how sports comedies were made, and how they are now made today. This is an ill-fated evaluation for the people of today, because if Semi-Pro is the next step for sports comedy, the genre will be lifeless within the coming years.