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The prefix "Semi" is often used to describe half of a certain thing. When used in the title of the new Will Ferrell movie Semi-Pro, it’s used to reference the skill level and status of a group of basketball players playing in the American Basketball Association (ABA) right before a proposed merger to the more successful National Basketball Association (NBA) during the 1970's.

The NBA was seen as the better promotion, with the money and talent to back it up, and the ABA was seen as the smaller, failing promotion, or half as good. It’s only fitting then that the worlds in this movie, directed by Kent Alterman, and even the movie itself be split in two.

The movie that’s being promoted to audiences is what you’d come to expect from the usual Will Ferrell recipe. The dopey man-child, in this case Jackie Moon, is a big shot recording artist, who uses his the profits from his number one hit, "Love Me Sexy," to purchase ABA team the Flint Tropics (which, if anyone knows anything about Flint, Michigan, there’s nary a Tropic to be found).

Jackie Moon’s not only an owner; he’s a player and the coach. He leads a bunch of dimwitted and down on their luck misfits through league play and life is good. That is until an owners meeting reveals that all teams in the ABA, save four, will be phased out in a merger with the NBA.

Upset at the news, our man Jackie gets the owners to agree that only the best four teams should go on to the NBA and not just the ones with the most attendance, and so sets forth the motivation for our main protagonists -- to get within the top four teams.

And usually from any comedy movie standpoint that would be enough. You’d expect Will Ferrell to haphazardly lead his motley crew from zeroes to heroes and win the day and along the way you’d be privy to an hour and a half of wacky and absurd comedy and farce. Well, in this movie you get that, but only half of the time.

Enter Woody Harrelson.

Semi-Pro takes a strange turn and somewhere along the way splits into a second movie with the introduction of has-been, hard-drinking, hard-fighting would-be NBA champion, Monix (Harrelson). Monix, who’s traded to the Tropics for a washing machine, is an athlete whose love for the game is waning and his best days are behind him. Jackie hopes that having an actual NBA champion on the team will help them achieve their goal, but Monix’s only motivation is to reunite with old flame Lynn (The totally doable Maura Tierney).

The major problem with this part of the film is that what has been established is totally farcical. It’s not a real world these characters are living in. It’s a crazy, Will Ferrell, grizzly bear wrestling world. Unfortunately, Monix and Lynn are real world people. Their relationship and their past are real and they’re actually portrayed very well. Their story breaks off from the Will Ferrell farce and Semi-Pro now becomes somewhat of a historical piece about the last days of the ABA and about playing basketball for the love of the game.

Throw in the sub-plot of Clarence “Coffee” Black, (The ever engaging Andre’ Benjamin) as the real talent and heart of the Tropics whose dream is to achieve NBA status, then you’ve got yourself a real head spinner of a movie. Is it a Will Ferrell romp…a heartfelt sports history genre movie… or a Woody Harrelson redemption movie? The answer is, ultimately, all of the above.

Don’t worry, though; Semi-Pro has got laughs. The cast is rounded out by tons of funny people including Will Arnett, Andy Richter and Andrew Daly, with cameos by SNL vet and personal fav Timmy Meadows, and soon to be household name Kristen Wiig. Rob Corddry (The Daily Show) just about steals the film as Lynn’s boyfriend Kyle, who has an unhealthy admiration of Monix, and the soon to be Rorschach in Warner Brothers' Watchmen Jackie Earle Haley gets some laughs as the spacey hippy Dukes. Unfortunately, the laughs are few and far between and the movie stalls.

On the other side, there’s a real winner of a movie with the dramatic story, and I felt myself most captivated when Semi-Pro dealt with the history of the ABA and the players' desire to find motivation and actually learn to play together as a team. Semi-Pro could have actually been made without Will Ferrell and just been a story about the last days of the ABA and it would have worked just fine.

I found myself very perplexed when watching Semi-Pro, tuning out when Will Ferrell’s antics got a little old hat but perking up when Woody Harrelson’s character continued his journey. I would have liked some more history on the ABA and what it brought to the game of professional basketball that we know today, and possibly Will Ferrell in a supporting role, still providing comic relief, but not overpowering the story. Semi-Pro is a good movie, but not necessarily a great movie. You could say that I Semi-Liked it.

Lon Lopez

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