He Dribbles, We Quibble

Will Ferrell's Jackie Moon, the owner, coach, promoter and forward of the Flint Tropics (yes, that's the Michigan Flint), is a familiar but slightly sweeter variant of the overbearing, hyper Ferrell sportsman who seems to make a yearly visit to our screens. Full of deluded optimism and unearned bravado, he's trying to rally his basement-dwelling basketball team to a magnificent fourth-place finish in the ABA in hopes it will become one of the NBA's expansion teams. It's that, or extinction. The year is 1976, which allows Ferrell to wear skimpy basketball shorts, awful polyester suits and a white-boy Afro considerably less impressive than the one on André Benjamin, who plays the Tropics' money player.

That said, "Semi-Pro" is nowhere near as funny as "Talladega Nights," nor as perceptive as the underrated "Kicking & Screaming," and though better made (by first-time director Kent Alterman) than the sloppy "Blades of Glory," it never reaches that movie's comic highs (or, mercifully, hits its lows). Scott Armstrong's script gets surprisingly little juice out of the motley teammates, who include a clueless Lithuanian and a subdued Woody Harrelson as an over-the-hill former player traded to the Tropics for a washing machine. Aside from Ferrell's sometimes inspired clowning, the funniest riffs belong to the team's announcers (Andrew Daly and Will Arnett), whose deadpan improvs are the wittiest thing in the movie. The semifunny "Semi-Pro" is amiable enough, but you never feel there's much at stake.