Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Ferrell on autopilot

“Blades of Glory” is Will Ferrell on auto pilot. For people who appreciate his humor it is a decent time, for those who think he is terribly unfunny this will act as further evidence.

After showing depth and dialing down to a warm, believable, human level in “Stranger Than Fiction,” Ferrell is back flaunting his body and faux machismo in a one-joke comedy about the first male pairs figure skating team.

Ferrell seems to have a thing for sports comedies, first there was the flat soccer film “Kicking and Screaming,” followed by the more on target NASCAR satire “Talladega Nights” and up on deck is the basketball comedy, “Semi-Pro.” “Blades of Glory” falls somewhere between “Kicking and Screaming” and “Talladega Nights,” but how many times can one actor parody sports movie clichés?

Jon Heder, Ferrell’s partner in comedy and skating, became an overnight sensation following the tremendous success of “Napoleon Dynamite.” Heder is still trying to live down the performance that made him famous and many are quick to dismiss all of his performances as watered down versions of “Napoleon.” But Heder is a likeable performer with a light comic touch and with “School for Scoundrels” and “Blades of Glory” has shown he’s more that a one trick pony.

Ferrell’s Chazz Michael Michaels and Heder’s Jimmy MacElroy and skating rivals who get banned from singles competition after an on-ice fight gets out of hand. Years later they are reunited by Jimmy’s coach (Craig T. Nelson, star of the show “Coach,” get it?) to be a pairs team. Naturally, they are exact opposites who hate each other and then ultimately bond.
This material is incredibly familiar, both as straight drama or comedy and “Blades of Glory” seems to be content to just work within the formula and earn some modest laughs. Although the character grows tired by the end, the idea of Chazz a crass, sex addict in the world of figure skating, is a funny one. It is role that is easy for Ferrell and will appease his fans who like him best when he’s stumbling around half nude or shouting dialogue.

The film lacks the extra layer of satire that features in Ferrell’s best comedies, “Anchorman” and “Talladega Nights.” Yes, both of those films are full of crude scatological humor, but there was also an undercurrent to the jokes that revealed the foolishness of American news and sports celebrity. In some ways “Talladega Nights” was just as effective as “Borat” at revealing the worst sides of Americans.

It is hard to review comedy. Humor hits each person differently. Some comedies hit the mark so well that just about everyone falls in love with them, but others are more hit and miss. “Blades of Glory” falls in the latter category.

One particularly gross scene is really the make or break for the film. In it Heder is handcuffed to a toilet. The key lies at the end of long strip of toilet paper. He can escape by using his tongue to pull the paper and key toward him. It is terribly unfunny scene, but if you can forgive the filmmakers for it then you are likely to accept the rest of the film.

Given the subject matter there are surprisingly and thankfully few gay jokes. The skating scenes are fairly amusing and there’s one hilarious chase scene with Ferrell running from a rival (Will Arnet, “Arrested Development”) while both are on skates. It is good as a distraction, but isn’t the sort of comedy you’ll be quoting with friends for months.

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