|Written by Darren Gross|
|Thursday, 16 October 2008|
Arriving after a string of similarly styled Will Ferrell sports comedies, (“Talladega Night” and “Blades of Glory”) “Semi-Pro” seems to have had no staying power in the pop culture radar, and did fairly lackluster box office. Three extremely similar films being released in rapid succession clearly didn’t make each film seem distinct enough to interest prospective audiences. While “Semi-Pro” stays very close to the sports comedy/underdog template of Ferrell’s other vehicles, it’s given additional targets, beyond sports, for cultural satire by placing the story in the 70s. Surely 70s hair, clothes, and attitudes are frequently, and easily riffed, but the era also makes Jackie’s wild character traits easier to swallow. Will Ferrell’s career and best films have tapped into his uncanny ability to do and say things that are wildly ridiculous, and crude, while remaining completely stone-faced and deliriously unaware. His mastery of egomaniacally dead-serious and absolutely self un-aware characters is Ferrell’s particular niche and the characterization of Jackie Moon fits the bill perfectly.
The supporting cast is particularly game. Woody Harrelson and Andre Benjamin are fine straight men for the gags around them and Andrew Daly as Dick Pepperfield flawlessly embodies stiff 70s sports commentators and he remains completely unflappable in the company of his cruder, decorum-challenged co-host, Lou Redwood (Will Arnett). More of his performance is featured in the deleted/alternate scenes, and they only serve to increase one’s appreciation for his performance. Jackie Earle Haley has a small but fun recurring role as a doped out, rarely conscious hippie, who endlessly pursues Jackie in order to claim his free-throw prize winnings. Among the comedic highlights are the bear wrestling scene, a goofy attempt by Jackie to make his team intimidate their opponents by having them wear mascara and Woody Harrelson’s first team training session.
The soundtrack features a bold, terrific, funk-inspired score by Theodore Shapiro and it’s backed up by a selection of funk classics from the period. Jackie’s legendary hit song, “Love Me Sexy,” perfectly captures the flavor of the era’s songs and was written by Nile Rodgers with Will Ferrell, based on Scot Armstrong’s script.
The film is presented in both an “R” rated and an unrated version, via seamless branching. While the difference is between 92 and 99-minute versions, there’s nothing outrageous or explicit in the unrated edition. It seems as if only a few inexplicit additional scenes have been added and it’s doubtful that there’s anything in this cut that’s harder than an “R.”
The Blu-ray presents the film in frequently stunning 1080p. The color palette is garish and vividly colored and it accurately captures the rich multitude of hues on displays with extreme precision and crispness. The imagery is predominantly sharp, and often displays fine detail, but there are several instances where the image seems unstable, particularly during basketball games where there are quick courtside panning shots, and there are brief instances of aliasing, such as on Ferrell’s hideous suit while he’s in the dumpster.
The DTS-HD MA track is in 7.1, and sounds terrific, even when monitored via core-only in 5.1. It’s a rich, clean, and well-balanced replication of a bold, extremely vibrant mix that makes excellent use of the surround channels, has tremendously satisfying, and involving presence, and features intense usage of the LFE channel as well.
Given the loose and improvisatory nature of the dialogue, the improvisations and deleted/alternate scenes are definitely worth a look. All are fully finished and are presented in 1080p and DTS-HD MA 7.1; they look and sound great. Nearly all of the bonus materials are in 1080i/p, though the featurettes occasionally incorporate some standard definition behind-the-scenes footage or interview snippets. “A Brief History of the ABA,” and “Recreating the ABA” are fascinating looks at the ABA era, and include vintage clips and feature comments with some original ABA players, who have cameo appearances in the film. The featurettes are all solid, and are given a tremendous lift by their HD presentation, which increases one’s involvement with the material. One finishes viewing them with an appreciation of this halcyon period in professional basketball. The exclusive “Super Agility Trainer” game is (appropriately enough, given the film’s era) an Atari-level game, similar to “Pong,” but it would not play on the Samsung BD-P1000.