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Original Issue

That '70s 'fro

Ferrell dishes off to good effect in Semi-Pro

IT DOESN'T take a comic like Will Ferrell to point out the obvious: The ABA of the 1970s was funnier—witness Marvin Barnes's wardrobe—than today's business-casual NBA. Of course, it never hurts to have Ferrell on your side of the argument, and first-time director Kent Alterman gets that in Semi-Pro, a loving lampoon of the NBA's red-white-and-blue stepchild. But although Ferrell is the centerpiece of the movie's marketing campaign, Alterman employs him almost sparingly, much as the Lakers of the late 1980s used Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Instead, Ferrell dishes to the film's fresher faces. (Will Arnett and Andrew Daly stand out as mismatched broadcasters.) That's good. Less Will is more Will, it turns out.

In his umpteenth foray into sports satire, Ferrell plays Jackie Moon, an Afroed jack-of-no-trades who parlayed a hit R&B single into ownership of the fictional Flint Tropics. As Moon explains in pregame introductions, he's "Yooour starting power forward, your owner, your coach, your pop-singing sensation!"

Moon is Mark Cuban with a little more gusto and far less brains. But Semi-Pro is driven by the redemption of two other Tropics: Clarence "Downtown Funky Stuff Coffee Black Sugar Dunkerton" Malone (Outkast's Andre' Benjamin) and Monix (Woody Harrelson), a has-been point guard. Jackie is mostly a sideshow who wrestles bears or performs roller-skating stunts to draw fans.

Why is Ferrell's role smaller than usual? Perhaps he and Alterman realize that he has run amok in recent movies, like Blades of Glory, creating Ferrell fatigue. Here he charms more than bludgeons. In the coming weeks New Line Cinema (which, like SI, is owned by Time Warner) will screen Semi-Pro for NBA players. The short shorts and hideous hair aren't all that will amaze them. They'll also wonder where the fun in their sport went.

The Pop Culture Grid