For the Love of God: No More “Will Ferrell as Dumb Athlete!” Movies
Posted by Andrew Unterberger on February 17, 2008
Semi-Pro: The Legendary Ballad of Glory of Jackie Moon
You know what it is? It’s arrogance. I don’t know if it’s on the part of Ferrell, his producers, or the studio execs that keep greenlighting these movies, but it’s unbelievable arrogance. To think that a comedic setup is so funny, so irresistible, that it can remain invincible through minor variation after minor variation–it’s hubris, plain and simple. Not even The Ramones were able to get away with that forever, and I am sorry Will Ferrell, but you, sir, are no Ramones.
Yes, I loved Anchorman as much as anyone, sure–back then, Will Ferrell’s style felt so new that I even had to watch it a couple times to really wrap my head around why it was so funny. But it really was hilarious, a blend of satire, slapstick and absurdism that was as fresh as any comedy of the new millenium. And the couple other Frat Packers that Ferrell was in around that time–Old School, Wedding Crashers, Starsky & Hutch–they weren’t quite as great, but they were good enough, different enough, funny enough to make their similarity in humor and cast entirely forgivable.
But then came Talladega Nights. In itself, Talladega Nights wasn’t terrible–it’s definitely watchable, thanks in large part to the support of Gary Cole and John C. Reilly–but it was the start of a dangerous trend. For one thing, Ferrell’s character was essentially a southern-friend duplicate of his Ron Burgundy character. For another, the plot structure was virtually identical to Anchorman‘s, as a slow-witted but beloved cultural icon at the top of his game experiences a downfall, is abandoned by friends and loved ones, learns valuable lessons about sharing and compassion, and ends up back on top. And finally, and perhaps most relevantly to this entry, it was set in the world of sports.
All three of these things were once again, not quite so bad when it was just Talladega Nights–a two and a half star movie at best, but one whose status as a Sunday Afternoon Basic Cable Classic is nonetheless fairly assured. But then came Blades of Glory, and it became clear that these movies were starting to be like copies from a Xerox machine running low on toner. You had all the same elements as Anchorman and Talladega–dumb pro fucks up, learns lesson, gets back–but this one didn’t even really change the setting, transforming it from the world of NASCAR to the world of pro ice skating. It was a fruitful breeding ground for more LOL GAY jokes, but besides that, the humor was the exact same as that of Talladega Nights.
Which brings us to Semi-Pro. You’ve no doubt seen the commercials by now, and you probably know the basic plot–Ferrell as Jackie Moon, a one-hit wonder turned ABA basketball franchise owner/athlete who has to resort to crazy crowd-pleasing tactics to boost attendance before the league is folded. OK, so maybe a little bit of the formula has been tinkered with at least, cool. But, c’mon–another WACKY FERRELL ATHLETE movie? Are they just going to keep going down a checklist of major sports, until eventually we get WACKY FERRELL ULTIMATE FRISBEE nad WACKY FERRELL WATER POLO movie?
That picture up there should say it all, really. Five years ago, a picture of a headbanded, scantily clothed and fro’d-out Ferrell, especially one with that half-joker, half-sexual predator look in his eyes, might’ve very well been a source of hilarity (though frankly, I’m not even sure I can remember that long ago). But look at it now. Doesn’t it just seem like a look of total smug and narcissistic self-satisfaction? Doesn’t it seem like Ferrell feels like its about a dozen times funnier than it actually is? Doesn’t it just fill you with hate?
Actually, considering how profitable, and even sort of acclaimed, these movies continue to be, I’m probably far closer to alone on this than I’d care to be. But I mean–I know Stranger Than Fiction wasn’t a masterpiece or anything, but wasn’t it nice to see a movie where Ferrell could go entire scenes at a time without a malapropism? Doesn’t he ever get as sick of playing stupid people as I do of watching them?