From the March 30 Oregonian....
"Blades of Glory" falls somewhere midway down the "good" column in Will Ferrell's comedy filmography. It's about the struggles of the first male-doubles ice-skating team (Ferrell and "Napoleon Dynamite"'s Jon Heder ).
And, as with most of Ferrell's best stuff, "the funny" lies in barely coherent line choices and out-of-nowhere absurdity. "Blades" doesn't hit the non-sequitur genius heights of "Anchorman" or "Talladega Nights," but the cast is great, and several gags hit hard. It's on par with another Frat Pack sports comedy, "Dodgeball."
I've been tearing through David Mamet's terrific new book on Hollywood, "Bambi vs. Godzilla," and he writes the following about modern big-studio comedy:
"The trend in comedy, of late, is towards the nondramatic.... The Ealing comedies have a plot; the late spate of summer comedies have a pretext. They are, not unlike the porno film, a loos assemblage of (in this case) humorous effects or scenes. These hemstitched entertainments are not, per se, bad or indictable.... Their antecedent however, is not the drama but the circus." Or, more specifically, vaudeville.
As Mamet himself writes, there's nothing inherently wrong with this. (In fact, couldn't you level this accusation against "Duck Soup," "A Hard Day's Night" or "The Bellboy"?) I only bring this up because, with "Blades of Glory," I'm finally really starting to see that the "Frat Pack" comedies -- movies starring that loose-knit group of comedians including Jack Black, Ben Stiller, Wilsons Owen and Luke, and Will Ferrell -- are getting in a bit of a structural rut.
Make no mistake: "Blades of Glory" is frequently laugh-out-loud funny. It imagines an alternate universe where ice-skating is a national pastime that plays a bit like pro wrestling with drag-queen flourishes. Ferrell plays Chazz Michael Michaels, an "ice-devouring sex tornado" who plays to the crowd with obscene skate routines and shameless trash-talking. (In one queasy bit, he makes obscene overtures to Nancy Kerrigan; in another, he shows off a tattoo commemorating his sexual conquest of Michelle Kwan.)
But when his rivalry with prissy perfectionist Jimmy MacElroy (Heder) turns violent, both men are thrown out of singles skating for life and tumble into the gutter. Until a fallen coach (Craig T. Nelson) talks them into mounting a comeback in the doubles division -- a comeback that could be triumphant if they can:
(a) beat the creepy brother/sister doubles champs (Will Arnett and Amy Poehler), who keep putting their adorable sister (Jenna Fischer) in tarty outfits to seduce and divide our heroes; and
(b) master Nelson's top-secret skating move, the "Iron Lotus." (The Lotus was only tried once, in North Korea, and the results of that failed attempt are too funny to spoil here.)
I loved Ferrell's nonsensical style of arguing, in which (e.g.) he responds to Heder's "Get out of my face!" with "I'll get into your face!"; and by tiny characters like Jimmy's surprisingly helpful stalker (Nick Swardson); and by the final moments, which owe more than a little to "Grease"; and by the skating costumes, which take their influence from such vital cultural touchstones as "Tron."
However: The basic premise of loser fools tumbling from grace and then triumphing over prissy rivals during a comeback (or raising money to save their orphanage/career/the world/whatever) in a heightened-reality version of a sport or profession has now formed the foundation of the following Frat Pack comedies: "Dodgeball," "Talladega Nights," "Nacho Libre," "Zoolander," "Anchorman," "Kicking & Screaming" and probably a couple more I'm forgetting.
So I guess my question is this: If you're going to string these bizarrely hilarious gags and ideas on the clothesline of a flimsy premise, must it so often be the exact same flimsy premise?
(93 mins., rated PG-13 for crude and sexual humor, language, a comic violent image and some drug references) Grade: B-plus
'Blades of Glory' (The Oregonian, March 30, 2007)