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Totally Amateurish 

by ED SYMKUS & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & F & lt;/span & lint, Michigan, in 1976, was not the place to be if you were a team in the American Basketball Association -- the league that would soon either dissolve most of its teams or merge a few lucky ones with the bigger, stronger NBA. That part of this new sports comedy is true. The team at its center -- the Flint Tropics -- is fictitious.

And if you want to see a well-made movie that brings the art of sports comedies to a new level, any theater showing Semi-Pro is, similarly, not the place to be.

Will Ferrell was a high school and college athlete. In recent years, he has run several marathons and played in an adult soccer league. But this guy has got to stop making sports comedies. They've been getting tired, and Semi-Pro makes them officially sleep-inducing.

As Tropics owner/coach/player Jackie Moon, Ferrell has playing habits as bizarre as his promotional ideas to build up arena crowds. At every game, he introduces each team member -- to more and more empty seats -- and regularly sings what one of two announcers calls his "once popular song," "Love Me Sexy."

If only the script by Scot Armstrong (who also wrote the recent unfunny The Heartbreak Kid) stuck with Jackie's absurd promotional ideas (eyeliner for the players, bear-wrestling, staging basketball brawls -- but only when broadcasts have gone to commercial), the film might have had a chance.

Ferrell indulges in hopelessly repetitive characterization, with the result that the script has nowhere to go. If the ever-losing Tropics can start winning and fill all those empty seats, then maybe the team might be considered for merger into the NBA. But somewhere in the midst of it all, that idea is buried, then forgotten.

There's also plenty of raunchy language to go with the film's rude, supposedly funny situations. Then, out of the blue, a whole different feel tries to break into the goings-on. Jokes about making fondue with cottage cheese fall flat.

The bickering announcers, Dick and Lou (Andrew Daly and Will Arnett), are actually pretty funny... for about 10 minutes. Then they shtick their way through endless gags for the entire film.

So we get gag after gag, of both the physical and visual variety. Woody Harrelson (with awful hair) appears as a pro player who's been demoted to this awful team with hopes of saving it. A side story about Harrelson's character, Monix, trying to rekindle a long-ago romance with Lynn (Maura Tierney), who is the current girlfriend of a team fan, has what passes as a middle section, but no beginning or end. That storyline, too, is just dropped. Oddly, Harrelson, a gifted comic actor, goes through the whole film playing it almost perfectly straight. The only funny thing about him is that he appears to be much shorter than all of the other players. (Either a camera trick, or everyone else is really tall).

In addition to all these problems, Ferrell -- generally a fearless actor who will do anything for a laugh -- goes way overboard. He's too physical with his comedy and too loud with his scattershot dialogue.

Semi-Pro keeps shooting out the gags, but most of them just clank off the rim. It's literally a shell of other Ferrell comedies, but there are so many things wrong, it's hard to really pinpoint the blame. A few bits, such as an on-target Jackson 5 bit, are great fun. But subtlety is a rarity in Jackie Moon's world, and Ferrell himself is unwilling to hold back. Add in first-time director Kent Alterman's complete misunderstanding of pacing, and the film's relentless flow of questionable taste, and you've got a film in which it doesn't matter if the team wins or loses. Anyone who pays to see Semi-Pro is a loser.
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