Paul's Review of Semi-Pro
An open letter to Scot Armstrong, writer of [i]Semi-Pro[/i]
Do you mind if I call you Scot? I feel as though we've been through a lot together, so you'll forgive me if I'm more informal than you'd like. I understand if you don't recognize my name, but I've gotten to the point now where yours is ingrained in my memory like a branding on a cow's ass.
You see, about a year and a half ago, I sat through the remake of [i]School for Scoundrels [/i]that you'd scripted, a film which takes on the controversial idea that Jon Heder is funny. While I made it through this film and subsequently [url="http://www.rottentomatoes.com/vine/journal_view.php?journalid=13186&entryid=364202&view=public"]told others[/url] of my plight in the way survivors of genocide often write books or inform the media in as bold a fashion as possible in order to warn others of the dangers close to them, I found that my blame was mostly shifted to the presence of Heder, an actor with the comic timing slightly less than that of a bag of Russet potatoes.
This was my error. I apologize to Mr. Heder. It is not entirely his fault that School for Scoundrels is an awful film. More of the problem, I'm sorry to say, seems to have lied with you.
I recently saw [i]Semi-Pro,[/i] the most current in a series of "stupid-underdog-makes-good" tales starring a Mr. William Ferrell, a comic actor of some repute whose works like [i]Anchorman[/i] and [i]Talledega Nights[/i] have brought smiles to my face more than grimaces of excrutiating pain. All of his films are essentially the same, and it's unclear if Mr. Ferrell is playing a different character in them, but he does his job well, and accusing [i]Semi-Pro[/i] of being derivative for Mr. Ferrell's performance is like accusing[i] Police Academy 6[/i] of being about officers of the law [i]again[/i]--it misses the point. But [i]Semi-Pro[/i] was written by you, for the first time with no co-writers to assist, and it has exactly the same major problem that [i]School for Scoundels[/i] had.
It's not funny. At all.
You see, Scot, for comedy to work and to come properly from characters, you have to have characters that are actively defined. Other than Mr. Ferrell, who plays a stupid underdog one-hit-wonder disco singer-turned-ABA owner and player, the characters are all essentially the same. A foreigner talks with an accent, but he never says anything funny. There's the black guy, played by Andre Benjamin, and the other black guy, played by another black guy. There's a tall fellow, and some sportscasters, and Andy Richter, playing an Andy Richter archetype. Woody Harrelson appears to be playing it straight and seems unaware that he's in a comedy, which is to be expected.
And like [i]School for Scoundrels[/i], a lot of talent is wasted on sub-plots that don't exist and jokes that aren't there. My feelings toward the (blank) Movie franchise have been well explored, but at least, for the most part, they're only wasting the time of actors that would otherwise be doing meaningless parts on CW shows. With the drawing power of Farrell, you've chosen to purchase the time of the likes of Matt Walsh, Maura Tierney, Tim Meadows, Will Arnett, David Koechner, Rob Cordry, Ed Helms and Ian Roberts--all of whom could have spent the time used working on this film instead being funny somewhere.
There are evidence of jokes and humor in [i]Semi-Pro[/i], like Walsh playing a priest who also serves as a referee, but there are no jokes attached to any of these things. It's as though you thought of funny scenarios and never bothered to add to them to the point where they were actually jokes. It's like simply saying "let's put a midget hooker in a movie" and then not doing anything at all with them.
Actually, that's a bad example, because midget hookers are always funny. You could have used one in the film.
In any case, Scot, I'd like you to know that I think you could be a good concept writer. You could scribble down some ideas on a napkin and hand it over to some actual writers and be credited with the "story." But if anyone ever hands you another opportunity to write a feature-length screenplay in which you'll be the only one putting pen to paper? Please do the world a favor and stick the pen in your eye. It will be painful for you for a moment or two, but the results of you not doing so could be painful for the world for an eternity.