'Semi-Pro' scores for fans of formula

Times Staff Writer

IN "Semi-Pro," Will Ferrell plays one-hit disco star Jackie Moon, who buys the mythical, oxymoronically named Flint (as in Michigan) Tropics, doormats of the American Basketball Assn., and installs himself as the team's improbable coach and starting power forward. Moon is not that different from Ferrell's other sports "heroes" such as Ricky Bobby in "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby" or Chazz Michael Michaels in "Blades of Glory," with the actor again relying on the character's obtuseness and misplaced confidence to carry him through.

If that shtick still works for you, "Semi-Pro" may be up your alley, otherwise you're in for a long haul.

An orgy of disco-era excess, it's also an interminable exercise in beating a dead horse. Writer Scot Armstrong and director Kent Alterman are so in love with the concept of the film's 1976 setting that they keep the jokes coming one after another. Actually, that should be joke, singular, as the movie's humor rests almost entirely on the idea that the era's fashions and styles are so wonderfully silly that oversized Afros, sideburns and tight shorts are worthy of their own movie (as if that hasn't been done before).

As for the film's plot, it's essentially a remake of the much funnier 1989 baseball comedy "Major League," in which a ragtag team of losers tries to do the impossible and become winners. Here the team and the league are in dire straits and the ABA strikes a deal wherein four of its member teams will join the well-established National Basketball Assn. at the close of the current season. The Tropics are fated to be left out of the merger until Moon convinces his fellow owners that the four teams should be determined by the final standings.

Needing to lift Flint out of the cellar, Moon goes out and trades a washing machine for washed-up point guard Eddie Monix (Woody Harrelson), a former Boston Celtic who once earned a championship ring riding the bench. After a rocky start, Monix teams with Flint's one good player, Clarence "Coffee" Black (Andre Benjamin), and the Tropics start to win.

Harrelson and Maura Tierney, who plays Monix's love interest, seem to be inhabiting a different, more interesting, movie, one that follows the familiar path of a has-been athlete seeking redemption at what looks like his last stop. The strange thing is that the subplot is so tangential to the rest of the movie that the scenes could be omitted with no one the wiser.

"Semi-Pro" layers on comedic actors in supporting roles -- Andy Richter, David Koechner, Will Arnett, to name a few -- to little positive effect. Jackie Earle Haley, as a perpetually stoned Tropics fan, essentially steals his scenes, but his appearances are too brief to sustain any momentum.

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kevin.crust@latimes.com

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"Semi-Pro." MPAA rating: R for language and some sexual content. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes. In general release.

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