He's actor enough to have anchored "Stranger Than Fiction," but for most moviegoers Will Ferrell is associated with a specific comic niche of celebrity-hungry Boobus Americanus. Following Ron Burgundy, regional TV icon in "Anchorman," and Ricky Bobby, polestar of NASCAR cool in last summer's hit "Talladega Nights," Ferrell takes on another arrogant but soft-centered superstar in "Blades of Glory." This time he's Chazz Michael Michaels, hot-shot competitive skater and unsteadily recovering sex addict brought low by his own temper, resurrected only when he learns to skate nice and become one half of a guy/guy skating team opposite willowy Jon Heder of "Napoleon Dynamite."
I have no idea if Ferrell's latest will strike "Talladega Nights" fans as too much of a retread, or not enough of one, or too outre in its comic vibe. That's saying something, given the Sacha Baron Cohen-on-Ferrell smooches in "Talladega." But fundamentally "Blades of Glory" works; it's full of laughs both subtle and ridiculous. And it's a full-on comic partnership between Ferrell and Heder, whether one of them is lifting the other by the crotch over his head or not. While it's full of cheap, low, stupid slapstick (I'm fine with all three) the verbal gags are faster and more plentiful than they were in "Talladega."
After an austere, wintry set of opening titles, a triple-lutzing preteen phenom is adopted by a steely billionaire (William Fichtner). "Forged into an uber-skater," young Jimmy becomes a boy-man (Heder), whose life is a highly controlled series of practice sessions and juice-box breaks.
Heder's rival is Chazz, the Garth Brooks of the ice. They tie for American gold at the world championships; a brawl ensues (a really funny one), and they're disgraced. Three years later Chazz works kiddie shows, drunk, while Jimmy fits bratty kids for skates in a sporting goods store. Then Jimmy's personal stalker informs him of a fabulous loophole in the skating federation's rules. He can compete again, if he switches divisions. His old coach (Craig T. Nelson, just right, and with some amazing rugs) brings Chazz into the equation, and while Chazz struggles with his macho distaste for his partner's balletic ways (his signature move is the "galloping peacock"), they're guided toward destiny and ultimate mastery of the most dangerous skating maneuver known to humankind, the Iron Lotus. The film's PG-13 rating refers to "a comic violent image," depicting what happens when the Iron Lotus goes awry. It's the funniest beheading in the history of film.
Jenna Fischer, who plays Pam Beesly on "The Office," is sweetly amusing as Jimmy's crush, deployed by her skating-fiend brother (Will Arnett) and sister (Amy Poehler) to break up the man/man act. Some of the ruthless rivalry business grows a bit tiresome. But "Blades of Glory" takes its satiric subject seriously enough to keep the payoffs coming. Two teams of writers, Jeff Cox and Craig Cox and John Altschuler and Dave Krinsky, receive screenplay credit, but the jokes don't feel rewritten; they play like the best results of two different teams' efforts.
The directors, Will Speck and Josh Gordon, are best known for their Geico caveman ads, and if you like those, you'll probably enjoy "Blades of Glory." It may not take Ferrell in any new directions, but it proves that in the right context, looking like Kurt Russell's puffy brother in flaming Spandex, on ice, can give a guy an edge.
'Blades of Glory'
Directed by Will Speck and Josh Gordon; screenplay by Jeff Cox, Craig Cox, John Altschuler and Dave Krinsky; photographed by Stefan Czapsky; edited by Richard Pearson; music by Theodore Shapiro; production design by Stephen Lineweaver; produced by Ben Stiller, Stuart Cornfeld and John Jacobs. A DreamWorks Pictures release; opens Friday. Running time: 1:33. MPAA rating: PG-13 (for crude and sexual humor, language, a comic violent image and some drug references).
Chazz Michael Michaels - Will Ferrell
Jimmy MacElroy - Jon Heder
Stranz Van Waldenberg - Will Arnett
Fairchild Van Waldenberg - Amy Poehler
Coach - Craig T. Nelson