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Originally published Friday, February 29, 2008 at 12:00 AM


Movie review

Flagrant, foul and funny, Ferrell's in his zone in "Semi-Pro"

You must have some life-of-the-party uncle who's driven his shtick into the ground over the years but still makes you laugh with the same...

Seattle Times staff reporter

Movie review 2.5 stars

"Semi-Pro," with Will Ferrell, Woody Harrelson, Andre Benjamin. Directed by Kent Alterman, from a screenplay by Scott Armstrong. 90 minutes. Rated R for language and some sexual content. Several theaters.

You must have some life-of-the-party uncle who's driven his shtick into the ground over the years but still makes you laugh with the same old arm-fart or impression.

As raunchy comedies go, "Semi-Pro" is no "Slap Shot" (unless you count imitation). Will Ferrell dusts off the same doughy, cluelessly sensual and egotistical buffoon he's played from the womb. And I don't know how much more easy mileage filmmakers can get out of '70s hair, fashion and music. But I laughed from start to finish at its relentlessly, energetically profane absurdity and a cast crammed with funny actors in even the smallest roles.

It's 1976, and Jackie Moon (Ferrell, with resplendent 'fro) is owner/coach/promoter/power forward of a hapless Flint, Mich., basketball team facing extinction, as only the top four teams from the colorful but low-rent ABA are about to be absorbed into the NBA.

Sometimes it's a toss-up: deft genre sendup or formulaic plot from free Internet template? Not this time. The underdogs train and play hard for a Shot (i.e., No. 4). An older player seeks redemption (Woody Harrelson, whose character didn't earn his championship ring and who was traded for a washing machine). And a talented younger player has to get his act together (Andre Benjamin from Outkast, also with a gigantic, globular Afro).

Some of the humor comes from (intentionally) telegraphing a joke from approximately the dawn of man and then hammering it home like John Henry — for instance, an apparently unloaded pistol in a card game, which an extraterrestrial watching his first Earth movie would know with 100 percent certainty has a live round in it. Some comes from taking a gag that extra step that causes a beat of silence and discomfort before laughter — for instance, when a superfan (Rob Corddry, "The Daily Show") finds Harrelson's character doing it with his girlfriend ("ER's" Maura Tierny, in the stock, humorless, pursued-chick role), he watches in shock for a moment, then sits down and starts doing himself. Some comes from calling Father Pat the Ref (Matt Walsh) a !@#$%-!@#$%.

Also a gas in smaller roles: Will Arnett as a smoking/drinking/swearing color commentator, Andrew Daly as his stiff partner and former Oscar nominee Jackie Earle Haley ("Little Children") as a shirtless white-trash fan.

It's Kent Alterman's first work as a director after producing comedies that include "Balls of Fury," Ferrell's "Elf" and the great "Strangers with Candy" show. Writer Scott Armstrong was responsible for "Old School" and "Starsky & Hutch." If they and Ferrell don't change things up after this, they're serious jive turkeys.

Mark Rahner: 206-464-8259 or

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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