“Semi-Pro” compared to “Slap Shot”

Which Semi-Pro review do you trust? The semi-dismissive one called “Only Half Bad” by the Village Voice‘s Robert Wilonsky or the friendly valentine written by Variety‘s Joe Leydon? Or does the truth of it lie somewhere in between?

Paul Newman (l.) in George Roy Hil’s Slap Shot

Semi-Pro‘s much better than Blades of Glory,” writes Wilonsky, “which wasn’t nearly as good as Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, which was a little better than Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, which was almost as funny as Old School, which was better than everything else Will Ferrell had done up to that point — except maybe Dick, which nobody saw and even fewer remember.
“Seems this is what it’s come down to with Ferrell: grading his movies in various shades of enh as each one blends into the next till they’re all one giant gray blob of feh.” A beautiful line. Should be memorized, chanted, etched into stone.
I haven’t seen Semi-Pro. I know Variety is a tough rag but sometimes they take it easy when a movie is aiming low and there’s nothing to lose. I can only say that Leydon seems to be spreading the kindness butter on the toast with a passion, especially when he says that Semi-Pro is “very much in the tradition of Slap Shot, George Roy Hill‘s raucously funny and foul-mouthed 1977 laffer about the misadventures of a minor-league hockey team.”
I wrote Leydon immediately after reading this and said, “‘In the tradition,’ okay, but you don’t seem to be saying Semi-Pro is as good as Slap Shot. I haven’t seen it and it might be tolerable in the usual oafish and slovenly fashion, but I know what Ferrell’s game is. He plays preening low-life cretins over and over and over. Slap Shot was a ’70s movie — character-driven, very appealing, dryly absurdist.”

Leydon wrote back saying that “no, Semi Pro is not as good as Slap Shot. But it’s in the same vein, the same spirit. Much better film than I expected. Very ’70s in look and feel. No attempt to tamp down the R-rated stuff so the kiddies can get in.”
In his review, Leydon says that Semi-Pro “scores big laughs with the rowdy play-by-play of hard-luck hoopsters struggling for professional survival. For some auds, Ferrell doing a full-court press in a white-guy afro alone will be worth the price of admission. But the New Line release also offers most valuable playing by a first-rate supporting cast, and enough funny business to ensure enduring playoffs on homevid and cable after a profitable theatrical run.”

  • Jay T.

    Here’s why I can’t take The Village Voice seriously…
    It seems like every time I see a really good movie, I’ll go to rottentomatoes.com to check out what the critics had to say and it’ll often have a really high fresh rating like 97%, leading me to wonder who the fucking idiots were who didn’t like it. Inevitably, one of those negative reviews will almost always be from The Village Voice or somewhere else pretentious like slate.com.

  • Bart Smith

    With movies like SEMI-PRO, I’ve learned it’s best to just ignore all the critics. If it’s got comedic actors I like, an amusing concept, and funny trailer, I’ll probably be there opening weekend. Even something that looked as terrible as HOT ROD did, I can usually find enough enjoyment out of to justify a rental.
    The philosophy works for comedies, but fails miserably at dramas.

  • JD

    That ranking of Will Ferrell movies is all wrong. While Blades of Glory is clearly the worst (of the recent crop anyway), Old School and Anchorman are WAY better than Talladega Nights, which is a horrible, pandering mess of a movie.
    And Jay T., why the conformist outlook? Does every critic have to share the same opinion? Why is it destructive to have a dissenting voice? Even if I like a movie, I’m always curious to read a well-reasoned explanation of why someone else doesn’t like it.

  • The first 70 minutes of Hot Rod were perhaps the funniest 70 minutes of any film last year. It died at the end, but it was a surprise.

  • Jeremy Smith

    SEMI-PRO wants to be SLAP SHOT, but it’s not even MAJOR LEAGUE (which I like, but I’m an Indians fan).

  • Slap Shot is a comic masterwork; as much as Ferrell makes me laugh he doesn’t really make comic masterworks(I think Anchorman is his crowning acheivement, followed by Elf). That said, I look forward to Semi-Pro; I just want to laugh and Ferrell typically does it.
    I thought Hot Rod was virtually unwatchable, except for the sequence in the woods and the tumble down the hill — this shit was fucking hysterical. But damn, the rest of that movie…what sub-youtube garbage it was. Ian McShane looked fucking embarrassed to be seen in that flick.
    Major League, which was the first R-rated movie I ever saw in the theater, continues to stand as one of the best sports comedies of all time. Such a funny movie. Great lines of dialogue; perfect moments of comedy. Could watch it right now. Maybe I will.
    And while it is nothing like one of Ferrell’s sports comedies, I still think Ron Shelton’s Tin Cup is one of the best of its kind. Costner was so good in that film, as was Renee Russo. Great writing, sexy as all hell, and extremely funny.

  • Rich S.

    If Semi-Pro is HALF as good as Slap Shot, then it will still be the funniest movie to come out in years. I don’t think it will come close, but I do think it will be funny.
    Could you imagine a star of Paul Newman’s caliber doing a movie like Slap Shot today? I doubt Leatherheads will dare to venture into the same territory.

  • Slap Shot is one of the most hysterically crude movies of all time. It makes sense, it’s well written and always coherent, and it made a statement. Semi-Pro is going to be Ferrell acting like an ass in a too-tight basketballt outfit, which is fine, and will probably be worth some laughs. But I will shit a brick if Semi-Pro comes even close to matching Slap Shot in any department of filmmaking.

  • GonePostal

    Agreeing with Rich S. that it would seem impossible for a star like Newman to do a Slap Shot style film today.
    Slap Shot and Major League are both terrific examples of how to do Sports Comedy. I watched Major League for the first time in years last October and laughed throughout. It’s a solid film, and of course Slap Shot is one of my all time favorites, alomost because it seems like a movie that would never be made today. For Sem-Pro to work, Ferrell will have to rely on his co-stars. He’s a funny guy, but his schtick can get old. Anchorman and Old School had solid turns from everyone in the cast and focused on them as well. Talladega Nights failed, in my mind, because it was way too much about how stupid Ricky Bobby and everyone else around him was. With Woody Harrelson and Will Arnett around, I think it has a chance of being better than average.

  • christian

    What’s funny is that the thing that hurt SLAP SHOT at the box office (tho it still did well despite what sone say) was its deliberate crudity.

  • corey3rd

    the only thing Semi-Pro has in common with Slap Shot is that they used 35mm film camera. Why not say that Larry the Cableguy’s Witless Protection is in the vein as The Gauntlet? And the Hansen brother could play hockey – Will Ferrell could barely play wii – is that his next sports dork film?

  • Christian: Amen. I reviewed Slap Shot — very favorably — back when I was working for a paper in Shreveport, LA. I got some very irate calls and letters from readers who were not amused by the film.

  • Slap Shot might just be the best sports movie ever made.

  • christian

    Next to THE BAD NEWS BEARS and ROCKY, it is.

  • Dave

    Love Slap Shot. Great movie.
    As for Ferrell, Old School is great, but it’s kind of off to the side– it’s funny, not (well, not totally) absurdist like all the other Ferrell films.
    Frankly, while I’ve found stuff to laugh at in all his movies, the only “classic” is Anchorman. It all started there, and it all kind of ended there, too. And mostly because he had the perfect supporting cast, and it fired on all cylinders.
    Hell, I remember laughing out loud at Moriarity’s *script review* on Ain’t It Cool News, nearly a year before the movie came out. It was genius on the page, and brilliantly executed.
    Everything Ferrell’s done since? Sadly, diminishing returns.

  • Movie Watcher

    I’m tired of Ferrell. Too many movies, and hardly any good ones. He’s another “actor” who should go away and take a break. We see it all the time. Him, Rogen and the rest…just go away for a year or so. Give people a break. You’re barely funny at all, and being in 1500 movies a year makes it worse.

  • Thinking about Semi-Pro yesterday I realized that, although I like Will Farrell, I like him in small doses. All of his movies have moments that I like, but none of them worked for me as a whole. He’s great in an SNL sketch or an interview, but his largely one-joke persona doesn’t hold up for 90 minutes.

  • bmcintire

    I can’t get excited by SEMI-PRO, and I think a lot of it has to do with the ridiculous amounts of visual schtick Ferrell is resorting to (the gigantic afro AND the too-tight shorts?). The trailer for STEP BROTHERS looks amusing enough, yet more of the same. These guys, for better or worse, seen to be cranking out a homogenous comedy vibe with all of these movies. The trailers might as well start with “If you loved anything by Judd Apatow. . .”

  • Jay T.

    “And Jay T., why the conformist outlook? Does every critic have to share the same opinion? Why is it destructive to have a dissenting voice? Even if I like a movie, I’m always curious to read a well-reasoned explanation of why someone else doesn’t like it.”
    I don’t have a conformist outlook. My point was, when the SAME publication seems to pop up practically every time there’s very little dissent, they lose credibility. For me personally, it started to become a running joke — Hmm… 137 reviews, 134 of them postive, only 3 negative. Oh, look, The Village Voice AGAIN!

  • Arizona Joe

    About “Slap Shot,” Actionman said “It makes sense, it’s well written and always coherent, and it made a statement.”
    That’s it. While there was a good deal of hyperbole, the characters in “Slap Shot” were true to life. It was a great, great sports movie. And it was written by a woman.
    Deliberate crudity? I have witnessed pro athletes do some things they would never put on film. Like in Dan Jenkins “Semi Tough” novel (not the diluted film): the reason “Slap Shot” is great is that it is has verisimilitude.
    There are no “Hanson Brothers” in real life, but there are a lot of Hansons. At The Ohio State University I saw football player roommates decoupage pornographic photos on a dorm room wall as sort of a Warholian wallpaper, decades before porn was commonplace. I also saw guys with no business being college students working on cars all morning, and then with grease on their hands go to football practice. One of them looked through the images on my David Bowie records, smiled at me and said, “Albums are cool.”
    Society and everyday people are much more coarse and crude today than in the 1970’s. It makes you wonder why “Slap Shot” and “Semi Tough” could not be made. I guess it’s just the selective way in which political correctness plays out.

  • thezipper

    Anchorman is hands-down Ferrell’s funniest movie. It may be the only one of his movies that will have a shelf-life ala Caddyshack, Animal House, Blazing Saddles, et al. I don’t include Old School in that reckoning because it wasn’t built around him.

  • Thinking about Semi-Pro yesterday I realized that, although I like Will Farrell, I like him in small doses. All of his movies have moments that I like, but none of them worked for me as a whole. He’s great in an SNL sketch or an interview, but his largely one-joke persona doesn’t hold up for 90 minutes.

  • PerfectTommy

    “While Blades of Glory is clearly the worst” – JD
    What about a little piece of awful called, “Kicking Screaming>?

  • Rich S.

    True dat, PT. While it’s a little like arguing whether whale shit stinks more than dolphin shit, anyone who says that Blades of Glory is Ferrell’s worst movie has never seen Kicking and Screaming (or A Night at the Roxbury, for that matter).

  • Krazy Eyes

    One more vote for Anchorman as the hands-down best movie from Ferrell. Is this even debatable?

  • Jay T.

    The thing about Anchorman is that it requires repeated viewings IMO. The first time I saw it, there were parts that made me laugh, but I also thought so much of it was just plain stupid (in a bad way). It has grown on me and become more funny in subsequent viewings, and certain lines become more amusing (“Boy, that escalated quickly… I mean, that really got out of hand fast.”)
    Talladega Nights, on the other hand, I couldn’t bare to watch again other than the first several minutes for that scene at the dinner table.