Semi Pro review by The Grim Ringler

SEMI-PRO

It was a weird scene, a year ago for we that call Flint, Michigan home. Rumors began going around that Flint was going to be featured in a new Will Ferrell film about basketball and, word had it, they might come to town to film some exteriors here. How rad is that. Since Michael Moores seminal ROGER AND ME, Flint has sorta been seen as a barren waste of backwoods idiots and desperation. For man, Flint was a symbol for not just the decline of factory towns, but was an example of what could happen to a city that had given up hope. What you saw in that film was the pain, not the people, so, essentially, you saw half of the story. Even today you find people who will never have been here and will espouse how horrible Flint is. You can imagine how excited the city became at the notion that wed have a shot at changing how people perceive the city. As the months pass and Winter 05 gave to 06 gave to the Spring, the rumors had it that there was going to be some first unit filming down around Michigan for the film but probably not in Flint. But the dreams became a reality and SEMI PRO ended up coming to Flint at the end of the shoot and for two weeks the city was able to get a taste of Hollywood. For me, there are two aspects that I was going to judge SEMI PRO by how good the movie was, and how well it portrayed the city I love and live in.

Jackie Moon (Will Ferrell) is a one hit wonder living in the shadow of Motown and desperate to cling to the last vestiges of fame his song Love Me Sexy has given him. As the owner of the Flint Tropics, a horrible ABA semi professional basketball team, he is desperate to make the team something the city and his dead mother can show pride in. Along with owning the team Jackie is also a player and hes certainly not the teams best. When word comes down from the basketball league that four teams are going to be absorbed into the NBA, he sees this as an opportunity to finally take the team to the next level. Unfortunately the Tropics are not one of the teams chosen to make the jump to the big league. In a last ditch effort Jackie proposes that the commissioner send the four best teams at the end of the ABA season to the bigs, this way giving the Tropics a chance. The commissioner begrudgingly agrees to this bargain, and now Jackie has to turn his team around. Trading (the teams washing machine) to get an ex NBA player onto the team, the Tropics have to start performing if they are to have a chance at turning their season around. It becomes clear to the team though that a big obstacle that is standing in their way is Jackie himself, who is a great motivator but an awful coach. Its decided that the person on the team with a championship ring and the only one among them with NBA experience should coach them; something Jackie is none too keen on hearing but which he agrees to, if it will turn the team around. The change in coaching and the return to fundamental basketball sinks in and the Tropics start climbing the ranks in their league. When the commissioner sees this he also puts the stipulation in that the four to get absorbed must also have high attendance, something the Tropics have never had. Jackie, a master of bizarre promotions pulls out all the stops to make sure to fill the Flint Coliseum and the town, not used to having a winning team, starts to rally around the team. Just when it looks as if the Tropics are going to be one of the teams to move on, they are told that the NBA has made its decision and that Flint is too small of a market for the team to be absorbed. Devastated, Jackie trades away the teams best player and loses the last bit of hope he had left, feeling as if he has let the team, the city, and worst of all, his dead mother down. There is one last game left for the Tropics though, and they have to come together if they are going to shock the basketball world and do what no one thought possible, and thats to finish the season as champions, rings or not.

I cant tell you how impressed I was to see that SEMI PRO was going to be released as an R rated film. Too often movies like this are emasculated in order to pander to a younger audience in the theaters and to release a harder cut onto DVD. Not so with SEMI, which has some the harshest, and funniest language I have seen in a while. The swearing in the film is used so broadly, and with such vigor that its one of the funniest things in the movie. Ferrell is fantastic as Jackie Moon, a man who wants nothing more than to make his mother proud and to do right by her memory. This role is in his wheel-house and is the kind he can do in his sleep at this point but he really does bring the character to life. The rest of the cast is also good, the standout being Andre 3000 Benjamin, who is fantastic as the star of the Tropics team. Woody Harrelson does well in his role but there is a lot that wasnt fleshed out with his character. First time director Kent Alterman did a very good job with the film, allowing the actors the breathing room to let the comedy come naturally and really capturing some beautiful scenes in Flint itself. The writing is good, though this is a really hackneyed story see any number of sports movies and you get a similar tale but the magic is in the comedy, which feels spontaneous and improvisational. The best part of the film was that there is a surrealist bend to much of the films humor. Be it a fight with a bear, an extended scene of gunplay, or a visit to Heaven, that SEMI has such a fun sense about it is what made it such an enjoyable film.

As far as its portrayal of Flint, I cant complain a bit. While it doesnt show Flint as this glowing metropolis, which would be a lie, it does nothing to tarnish the citys image further, which I appreciated. Its become all too easy to make Flint the butt of a joke and SEMI never does that once. It was great to see places I know all too well and even to see the back of where I live in an extended scene in an alley. Its not often you can say THATS WHERE I LIVE during a screening of a nationally released film.

The big problem I have with SEMI is that it IS a retread of other sports comedies. Without Ferrell and the over the top swearing, this would be a notch above direct to video. I think there is a lot more that could have been done with the story and it was hard not to get the feeling that there is a lot of material that didnt make it in. Heck, I know for a fact that there were scenes done in Flint that would have fleshed characters out that didnt make it in and I look forward to seeing how these scenes play out on the DVD extras. SEMI PRO is a well made film, and should do well at the box office, but its not a terribly memorable film. This is far from a comedy classic, to be sure. I and the audience I saw SEMI PRO with loved the hell out of the film, despite its flaws, and no one seemed outraged by the blue humor. If you are a fan of Ferrell there is a lot to love, and if you love just raunchy as hell comedies then brother, you cant find one out that is much funnier. Not an all star, but I wouldnt resign it to a life on the bench either.

c




7 out of 10 Jackasses
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