I’ll be honest: "Semi-Pro" is the kind of movie reviewers hate. Not because it’s so bad, but because it gives us so little to write. It’s much easier — and more fun — to either rave or rant than to be lukewarm.
Since this movie doesn’t inspire me to either extreme, let us halfheartedly move on to the synopsis.
Jackie Moon (Will Ferrell) is the owner/coach/star player of the (fictitious) Flint, Mich., Tropicals, a team in the American Basketball Association in 1976. Propelled by a hit disco song, Jackie has made himself into the biggest fish in a very small fishbowl. Everyone in Flint loves him, and the little universe of the Tropicals revolves around him. Too bad he’s a joke to the rest of the world.
Everything is thrown out of rhythm when the league learns that it will be dissolved into the NBA. The top four ABA teams will move to the big time NBA, but the other teams will cease to exist. Thus, the Tropicals have their mission: play their way into fourth place and move to the NBA.
They get some help from over-the-hill, former NBA bench warmer, Monix (Woody Harrelson). He provides the team with coaching help and the urgency of a player getting one last shot, but he is mostly in Flint to reconnect with his old flame Lynn (Maura Tierney). And the formula is set.
The movie has a nice bit of fun with the real demise of the ABA, some of the on-court innovations that became synonymous with that league, and the crazy promotional stunts minor league sports teams use to sell tickets (at one point, Jackie fights a bear).
This is also a very funny cast. Will Arnett and Andrew Daly are very good as the team’s radio broadcast duo. Jackie Earle Haley (Kelly Leak in "The Bad News Bears") makes a perfect cameo.
In fact, the entire supporting cast does its job well, but too many of them are given almost nothing to do. Tierney, Andy Richter, and David Koechner, particularly, are wasted here. Like the entire movie, their presence seems unnecessary.
Besides, most of the time the movie wants us to laugh at the garish ’70s clothes and Ferrell’s afro. Which leads me to the real problem here: this movie offers nothing original.
Depending on how much grace you feel like showing it, "Semi-Pro" is either a tribute to the Paul Newman classic "Slap Shot" or a blatant rip-off of it.
"Semi-Pro" also steals from "Bull Durham" and too many other sports movies to name. The only positive side to this theft is that they pilfer from good movies.
While this isn’t nearly as obnoxious as some other movies starring Ferrell or Harrelson, "Semi-Pro" shoots a brick compared to the classic movies from which it "borrows."
The highest compliment I can pay this movie comes from my friend and native of Flint, Mich., Matt Socey, who says "Semi-Pro" is the second best movie ever set in his hometown.
(Want to guess how many movies have been set in Flint?)
If you haven’t seen any sports movies made prior to 1990, you’ll probably enjoy this one more than I did. Otherwise, it’s a tepid, forgettable movie from which I didn’t expect much and didn’t get much.
Jeff Marker is a media studies professor at Gainesville State College.