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.”