02/27/2008 12:00 AM |

Among Dodgeball, Talladega Nights, Hot Rod, Beerfest, Blades of Glory, its near-homophone Balls of Fury, and now Semi-Pro, it can seem like America is in the midst of a wacky-sports craze, the scope of which is too grand to be addressed except in the broadest and most improvisational of Hollywood comedies. The truth is just that the familiarity of the sports-movie genre’s conventions gives filmmakers an easy narrative crutch on which to support a lot of silliness.

Semi-Pro is a prime example. Will Ferrell plays a player-owner-manager trying to win his small-market basketball team a berth in the NBA with the help of a Wily Veteran (Woody Harrelson), a Brash Young Talent (André 3000) and a Ragtag Band of Underdogs. As expected, the mechanics of the plot are of far less consequence than Ferrell’s pratfalls and the supporting cast’s ad-libbing, but the film’s ratio of successful-jokes-to-failed-ones isn’t really high enough to justify its shagginess. At a certain point, charming and goofy just starts to look lazy and sloppy, and Will Ferrell starts to look like he’s trying out to be the YouTube generation’s Adam Sandler.

Opens February 29