Will Ferrell’s latest is as light and inconsequential as a ball of lint, and pretty funny. The lightness helps. In a movie like last year’s hugely successful “Talladega Nights,” with its sprawling satire of red-state yokeldom, Ferrell’s improvisational comic brilliance was given too much room to fill; it began to seem unedited, and then to creep uncomfortably close to the verge of shtick. “Blades of Glory” is 15 minutes shorter than that picture, and Ferrell doesn’t have to carry the bulk of the film himself. He’s found an ideal foil.
That would be Jon Heder. With his toothy, incredulous demeanor (he resembles a lightly stunned cherub), Heder provides a perfect inverse to Ferrell’s fearless vulgarity. And the über-glittery world of professional ice skating in which the movie is set doesn’t require heavy satirical drubbing — it satirizes itself.
Ferrell plays Chazz Michael Michaels, a lecherous, booze-addled slob who also happens to be one of the top pro skaters in the country. He would be the top skater were it not for Jimmy MacElroy (Heder), an icky-sweet blond skating purist who, in his tight, spangly Lycra outfits, is frequently mistaken for a girl. Chazz and Jimmy once tied for first place in a pro competition, got into an ugly brawl, and were banished for life from the field of men’s single skating. Their exile ends two years later, though, with the appearance of Jimmy’s most ardent fan, a skate-groupie named Hector (the wonderfully whiny Nick Swardson). Hector desperately wants to see his hero rehabilitated (“It’s embarrassing stalking a has-been”), and he thinks he’s found a way — a loophole in the pro regulations that would allow Jimmy and Chazz to re-enter the sport in the duo category. Two men have never done this before, understandably; but there are no rules against it.
An out-to-pasture coach called Coach (Craig T. Nelson) takes them on, and soon has them back on the ice. But the twosome thing proves particularly difficult for Chazz. Not only does he despise Jimmy (“You look like a 15-year-old girl, but not hot”); he also has to rein in his loutish propensities for alcoholic enhancement and triumphal crotch-waggling. Jimmy, for his part, is both appalled and fascinated by Chazz — by his gross, lumpy body, festooned with tattoos memorializing the top female skaters he’s “tapped” over the years, and by his odd résumé, which includes both a number of international skating championships and “an adult-video award.” (“I’m a sex addict,” Chazz says. “It’s a real disease, with doctors and everything.”)
As Jimmy and Chazz start getting a credible act together, complete with loopy pirouettes and high-flying partner-tosses, a rival brother and sister team — the reigning champs, played by Will Arnett and Amy Poehler — watch from the wings with growing alarm. They dispatch their younger sister (Jenna Fischer) to spy on the upstart duo, but she falls for Jimmy, and the plot clicks into gear.
Of course, the plot is just a coat hanger for the movie’s mantle of rancid japes, non-sequitur wisecracks and silly situations, often involving one skater, in mid-routine, suddenly finding his face within nuzzling distance of his partner’s jiggly parts. (Sexual anxiety, both gay-related and incestuous, is the movie’s unsubtle subtext.) First-time feature directors Josh Gordon and Will Speck (who deserve some sort of award immediately for the series of Geico “caveman” commercials they created) know how to time laughs, and apart from a funny skates-on-pavement chase sequence that’s overextended, they keep the story humming along. The action is a complex blend of green screens, stunt men and the actual skating of Ferrell and Heder, and it’s fairly seamless.
But the stars of the show are the show. Heder, with his snappy reactions and his bride-of-Elton-John skating ensembles, is funny beyond the call of a second banana. And Ferrell, with his little piggy eyes and his bursts of unfounded braggadocio, is frequently hilarious. We’ve seen him do this sort of thing before, of course, but he’s so inspired that he could easily go on doing it for years to come. Let’s hope he doesn’t, though. Even a master comic can wear out his welcome (as Ferrell nearly did with his garish turn in “Wedding Crashers”). The man is clearly capable of much more than assembly-line yuk fests, and one hopes he’ll move forward. “Blades of Glory” might be a nice high note to go out on.
(“Blades of Glory” is a Paramount Pictures release, produced in part by MTV Films. Both companies are subsidiaries of Viacom.)
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