Will Ferrell was a hysterically funny bit-part player in frat-pack comedy, OLD SCHOOL. And in ANCHORMAN: THE LEGEND OF RON BURGUNDY, he got a showcase for his very special brand of comedy. Ferrell typically plays middle-aged men clinging onto the last vestiges of some earlier minor league fame. They are desperate, emotionally vulnerable men who act like spoiled children when real life catches up with them. They can be vicious and mean to their best friends and alienate their loved ones. But somehow these freaks always redeem themselves and come out smiling. I use the word freak advisedly. Ferrell's signature style is to selflessly embarass himself in the pursuit of a cheap laugh. No costume is too ludicrous - no nude scene over-looked. It's as though he is so deperate to raise a laugh that he throws himself onto the mercy of the audience. "Okay, what I'm doing here may be pretty lame, and you may have seen it in every other film I ever made, but I'm trying so very hard, pleeeeeeeeeease love me!"
The problem is this: Will Ferrell has been in so many films spoofing the 1970s that his movies now strike me as stale, cynical, lazy cash-ins. I haven't genuinely belly-laughed at a Ferrell movie in years. On the other hand, you can't damn his movies completely. After all, his attention to the costume and production design and his willingness to whip himself up into hysteria is, well, admirable.
The sad truth is that I have a lot of respect for Ferrell, but his movies have been delivering diminishing returns to the £10 ticket price ever since ANCHORMAN. And let's face it, why do you need him return to the screen as a semi-pro basketball player doing basically exactly the same schtick as he did as a racing car driver or weatherman? Ferrell is a great actor. It's time that producers and script-writers rose to the challenge and gave him a new outlet for that talent. Otherwise he's going to turn into a sad pastiche of himself.
SEMI-PRO is on release in the UK and USA. It opens in Iceland on March 7th; in Singapore on March 20th; in Australia on April 3rd; in France on May 14th and in the Netherlands on May 22nd.