Semi-Pro is a fictional account of the last days of the American Basketball Association. Its decade-long run is fondly remembered for its outlandish flair, showmanship, and bizarre promotions, sort of like the brief existence of the XFL, which should have made it a comedy gold mine for the likes of stars Will Ferrell, Woody Harrelson, and André Benjamin. Unfortunately, Ferrell, who has fallen into the habit of improvising his way through scenarios that were probably only vaguely funny to begin with, has forgotten that his most successful characters have been likable and cheer-worthy. This time around, his Jackie Moon is none of these things; he's just a voluptuous dude with a 'fro, neckerchief, and a childish temper. The rest of the cast is given just as little to do, relying more on Semi-Pro's idea for laughs than carefully orchestrated comedic sequences. Improvisation is great and often the key to Ferrell's movies' success, but it would be nice to get the sense there was at least something funny on the page before shooting began.
The year is 1976, the ABA's final season, and an NBA contract has just been signed. The San Antonio Spurs, Denver Nuggets, New York Nets, and Indiana Pacers are contractually set to join the league, while other teams--such as Moon's Flint Tropics--will be forced to take payouts. Moon's funk hit "Love Me Sexy"--which he stole from his dead mother (Patti LaBelle in a cameo not only inexplicable but also unfunny)--allowed him to buy the impossibly bad Tropics and, despite absolutely no experience, make himself the coach and power forward, but he refuses to accept the insult. Pretty soon, a deal is struck: The four highest-ranking teams in the league, rather than the four most profitable, should make the jump to the NBA.
This means the last-place Tropics must fight tooth and nail for the respectable position of fourth place, a premise that, like just about everything else in Semi-Pro, sounds pregnant with comedic possibilities but never really gives you a reason to laugh aloud. For example, during a Russian roulette sequence, Moon and other characters improv their way through a post-poker game stunt of pointing a pistol at their own heads and each other's--the sort of madcap, nonsensical stuff that made Anchorman so damn memorable--but here the joke never goes far enough. Nothing in Semi-Pro goes far enough, in fact. It might make you laugh here and there, but it's really nothing more than a collection of skits that probably never would've made it through the early-week vetting process at Saturday Night Live.