"Semi-Pro" is only semi-coherent, and semi-funny.
Will Ferrell pours so much energy into his comedy roles that when it pays off, they sing. When it doesn't, there's nothing left but the stale reek of frantic exhaustion.
In the slob sports comedy "Semi-Pro," Ferrell expends prodigious effort, pounding away on scenes so unshaped and rudderless they might have been improvised on the spot. The film is the first directed by Kent Alterman, a former producer, and the point of view is unstable. Whatever meanings were intended don't emerge; the laughs are stillborn. Ferrell looks punchy, tired and baffled, and you can't tell whether that's the character or the actor peeking through.
He plays Jackie Moon, a 1970s one-hit disco crooner who used the profits from "Love Me Sexy" to buy the struggling Flint Tropics, the weakest franchise in the American Basketball Association. Moon, who is both owner and player, sports a dandelion-shaped 'fro and Superfly wardrobe, but inside he's marshmallow fluff, a quivering mass of emotional insecurities whose idea of a locker room pep talk is to tear up and plead with childlike pathos, "Everybody love everybody!"
With the ABA about to fold, the Tropics will have to win their final season and attract record attendance to be absorbed into the NBA. Jackie delegates coaching responsibilities to jaded, fading star Monix (Woody Harrelson), turning his attention to publicity stunts such as choreographing halftime dance routines with players in seahorse costumes, stunt-jumping over a line of cheerleaders and cage-wrestling a bear.
His team consists of types familiar from previous sports movies -- the European import who doesn't speak English, the headstrong maverick, the serious, inspirational player -- but none of them gets a fresh comic spin. A few don't even seem to belong in a comedy. We're invited to laugh at the affair between Harrelson's character and one played by Maura Tierney, enthusiastically encouraged by her sports-nut husband, but the scenes are bizarre and creepy. Actor-rapper Andre Benjamin plays Clarence, a serious, talented player aiming to move up in the league. He and Harrelson perform their scenes as drama while Ferrell plays games with his eyes and mouth, desperately trying to give the movie the wild charge it needs.
The most consistent laughs come from Andrew Daly as Dick Pepperfield, the team's peppy, vacuous announcer, who is so cautious about not offending anyone that he turns the other cheek when people proposition his wife. But he appears and vanishes at random.
Erratic, overlong and repetitive, "Semi-Pro" seems not to have been written but sketched out in chalkboard diagrams before the actors took their marks in front of the cameras.
Colin Covert • 612-673-7186