2008, Movie, R, 90 mins


Two development questions underlie the apparently inexhaustible stream of Will Ferrell sports spoofs: "Does the comically out-of-shape Ferrell look funny in the uniform?" and "Can we build a movie around it?" In the case of New Line executive producer-turned-director Kent Alterman's underdog basketball comedy, the answers are "not particularly" and a resounding "no."

Set back in funky 1976, the year the wild and wooly America Basketball Association was absorbed into the NBA, the unfunny end result stars Ferrell as Jackie Moon, one-hit wonder and power forward for Flint, Michigan's own piss-poor ABA team, the Tropics. He's also the team's coach and, thanks to the windfall he received when his sleazy soul ballad "Love Me Sexy" topped the charts, the Tropics' owner. Jackie's not only a bad player and poor sport -- he routinely threatens to murder the ref's entire family and burn down his house -- he's a terrible coach: Jackie believes more in motivational speeches and team rules like "Everbody love everybody" than the "x's and o's" of actual game plans. But he loves his team, even if no else in Flint does, and when he's told by the basketball commissioner (David Koechner) that only four of the ABA's seven teams are merging into the NBA before the league is dissolved, Jackie does everything in his limited power to make sure Flint's least likely are among the chosen.

But wait, there's more -- much more. In order to better the Tropics' chances of winning a berth with the NBA, Jackie trades a washing machine for former Boston Celtics point-guard Ed Monix (Woody Harrelson). A mean drunk who, at one time or another, has punched out just about everyone on the Tropics, Monix finds himself at odds with the team's star player, shooting guard Clarence "Coffee Black" Withers (Outkast's Andre 3000) who knows Monix really spent his championship Celtics season on the bench. Monix has returned to Flint to win back his ex-girlfriend, (Moira Tierney) and his pride, by helping the Tropics win their rightful place with the NBA. Given the screen time devoted to Monix's character and story line, this "subplot" actually constitutes the plot, though its tone and content are at odds with Jackie Moon's bizarre antics. While Monix sincerely tries to teach the Tropics something about basketball, Jackie stages a series of disastrous promotional stunts, including corn-dog night and an Evel Knievel-style roller-skate jump over eight supine, bikinied ball girls.

The humor is mostly visual -- 70s relics like Pong, Shasta and men's platform shoes compete with the sight of Ferrell squeezed into tube socks and short shorts -- while too many of the scenes that are actually written whimper out without a punch line. If the very idea of an underdressed and ungroomed Ferrell triggers a Pavlovian laugh response -- something the filmmakers were no doubt counting on -- you won't be entirely bored. There are two funny bits, one involving reckless poker-table hijinks with a gun you know isn't as empty as everyone assumes, and a publicity stunt in which Jackie's promise to wrestle a bear goes horribly awry and launches the movie's sole amusing running joke. If only they'd stopped right there. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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