Thursday, April 05, 2007

Movie Review: "Blades of Glory"

Starring Will Ferrell, Jon Heder, Will Arnett, Amy Poehler, William Fichtner, Jenna Fischer and Craig T. Nelson
Directed by Will Speck and Josh Gordon

Official Web site

For anyone who’s seen the trailer or heard the concept behind the latest Will Ferrell movie, they should be well prepared for what’s to follow as the movie unspools on screen: 93 minutes of ridiculous characters, outlandish situations, predictable outcomes and, if all goes well, a healthy dose of laughter. “Blades of Glory” is certainly more than up to the task of the first three items in that list. But while the film lags a bit in the laughter department, the comedically gifted cast keeps the rather thin premise on its feet. Or from falling through the ice. (Use your own skating analogy, if you wish.)

Following in the tradition of his cocky, chauvinistic jerk characters he created in “Anchorman” and “Talladega Nights,” Ferrell’s latest is Chazz Michael Michaels, a figure skating superstar whose talents are just barely greater than his ego. Never mind the fact that Ferrell’s body type (shown in true flabby form here) would hardly be the kind that could produce a gifted skater – it’s all part of the joke, after all.

The chief rival for Michaels is Jimmy MacElroy (Jon Heder), a much more classically trained skater, who was plucked from an orphanage at a young age by a calculated billionaire (William Fichtner) and engineered into one of the world’s best at his sport. Outfitted with outrageous skating costumes which seem like only a slight exaggeration of the sport’s actual fashion sense, MacElroy and Michaels arrive on a collision course at a competition where they prove that the podium is not big enough for them both. The resulting brawl leads to them being banned from singles competition by a board largely consisting of former actual U.S. skating champions (Nancy Kerrigan, Peggy Fleming, Dorothy Hamill and Brian Boitano are all among the many skaters making largely ineffectual cameos, save for Sacha Cohen’s).

The movie fast forwards more than three years later, with neither Michaels nor MacElroy happy with their life’s current direction. Leave it to a stalker of MacElroy’s (Nick Swardson) to bring up a loophole that would allow both men to continue their professional skating careers, albeit in pairs competition. Out of sheer desperation and because, well, frankly the story requires it, Michaels and MacElroy grudgingly decide to become the first male professional pairs skating team, working under MacElroy’s former coach (a game Craig T. Nelson, essentially playing the straight man).

Naturally, things don’t go smoothly at first, as both show a hesitation to work together and deal with all the touching required. Their first competition demonstrates the audience’s uncertainty on how to react to the new pairing, until the two’s showmanship and willingness to throw caution to the wind wins them over. Ferrell’s facial expressions during this sequence as he tries to maintain a cool exterior are pretty priceless.

The new team’s success is a thorn in the side of the reigning pairs champion team, Stranz and Fairchild Van Waldenberg (Will Arnett and Amy Poehler), who are quite the jealous sibling duo, choosing to use their little sister (Jenna Fischer) as a wrench to throw in the strengthening Michaels-MacElroy machine. Playing a possibly incestuous, definitely weird brother-sister combo, Arnett and Poehler (who are married in real life) offer fine support in the film, in addition to the more predictable character arcs of Ferrell and Heder’s characters.

So yes, the movie does suffer from some predictability problems, including the second act breakup of the pair, and the subsequent and inevitable reconciliation in the third act. But there’s still quite a few laughs that help keep the movie from falling into tedium, with a quite funny extended chase sequence between Ferrell and Arnett that starts out very swift and athletic, only to later come to an almost complete standstill, as each struggles to move on their skates.

While the end result isn’t as wholly satisfying as some of Ferrell’s other work, possibly because the stories and characters are becoming a bit too familiar, it still mostly delivers the laughs audiences are looking for. Still, since his early days on “Saturday Night Live,” Ferrell seems to be an actor who takes his comedy seriously – even when the movie itself is seriously stupid. And so it is with “Blades of Glory.”

Grade: B
(Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual humor, language, a comic violent image and some drug references.)

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