A film review by Craig J. Koban
BLADES OF GLORY
BLADES OF GLORY
2007, PG-13, 90 mins.
Chazz: Will Ferrell / Jimmy: Jon Heder / Stranz: Will Arnett / Fairchild: Amy Poehler / Katie: Jenna Fischer / Darren: William Fichtner / Coach: Craig T. Nelson / Jesse: Romany Malco
Directed by Josh Gordon and Will Speck / Written by John Altschuler, Jeff Cox, Craig Cox and David Krinsky
Hmmmm…a comedy about the world’s first male-male competitive figure skating duo?
I must be smack dab in the middle of Will Ferrell-land.
In terms of its one-sentence premise – and the stars headlining the film – BLADES OF GLORY should have more than enough comic mileage to generate uproarious laughs. We have Ferrell, the undisputed king of the movies when it comes to the delicate art of manic silliness and self-humiliation; we have Jon Heder, who achieved comic stardom for his much beloved turn as an uber geek in NAPOLEON DYNAMITE; we have Will Arnett, who gave one of the funniest supporting performances in recent memory on one of the most underrated TV SHOWS of the last five years in the short-lived ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT; and finally, we have a script that targets the not-so-subtly homo-eroticized world of figure skating.
How could this not be funny…right?
Perhaps the biggest disappointment with BLADES OF GLORY is that it simply does not supply ample laughs during its 90 minutes. Yes, there are moments that generate modest chuckles, and the comedy in the film is somewhat sly, goofy, and harmless. Calling the film a ten minute SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE sketch lengthened nine times would not be altogether appropriate. Ferrell himself has had a field day making films that could have seen the light of day on late night sketch comedy. The fact that he displayed such a go-for-broke and insatiable desire to make an utter fool of himself in those films made them work well beyond their fairly flimsy premises. As I wrote in my TALLADEGA NIGHTS review, “If I were to review Will Ferrell on effort alone, I would give him four stars every time….[he] knows that the way to make us laugh is to do absolutely anything to generate chuckles, both big and small.”
Maybe that’s part of the reason why the comedy of BLADES OF GLORY is somewhat flaccid and lacks punch. When Ferrell is at the top of his zany game, there is no one funnier in the movies. Yet, when crashes and burns in a comedy that tries to be hysterical, then Ferrell’s presence is a sore sight. Perhaps another key to the success of the actor’s likeability in comedies is the fact that most of his funniest characters are likeable, despite all of their faults.
Ron Burgundy may have been a womanizing misogynist that thought that women had “pea-sized” brains and that his female co-anchor was a “dirty pirate hooker from whore island,” but his callous and offensive ramblings emerge out of his complete stupidity and ignorance. He’s not purposely politically incorrect and cruel; he is a product of his time and place and walks around in a state of perpetual tunnel vision about the righteousness of the things he says. When he corrects a woman in ANCHORMAN that San Diego is actually German for “a whale’s vagina,” you kind of love the guy because of his complete, unintentional ineptitude. His NASCAR, trailer park trash-minded driver Ricky Bobby is the same way. When he is in a hospital, claiming that he is paralyzed from the waist down (he isn’t), he grabs a knife and plunges it into his thigh to prove it to his buddies that he'll never walk again. Of course, he howls with pain afterwards. Again, how could you not find humor in someone so stupid?
However, in BLADES OF GLORY Ferrell plays a simpleton that is not really all that likeable. He is not so much a careless and inadvertent jerk in the film as he is just a jerk and goon…period. First, he’s a raging alcoholic (not inherently funny), and an even more problematic sex-aholic (not nearly as funny as Ferrell thinks it is here). Unlike Burgundy and Bobby, his male figure skater is too warts and all obnoxious and slimy to be someone to really like despite his faults. Yes, Ferrell is silly and dumb in the film, but he seems more on auto-pilot here with his energy and tenacity, not to mention the fact that you never really appreciate his efforts in the film to make himself look terrible. Burgundy and Bobby were affable dummies. In BLADES OF GLORY, Ferrell is just...well...an unscrupulous heel.
Oh…and the film makes one cardinal blunder of comedies: funny names are rarely very funny. Ferrell plays Chazz Michael Michaels (see what I mean?), an incredibly vain and self-aggrandizing, bad boy figure skater. He’s the kind of ballsy skater that likes to perform to Aerosmith and The Black Eyed Peas with moves that owe more to strippers than figure skaters. Some skaters get flowers thrown at him; Chazz gets bras. The judges love him despite his smuttiness. This, of course, does not sit to well with the squeaky clean, blond haired, blue-eyed All-American skater named Jimmy MacElroy (Jon Heder, in another failed comedic role that once again proves that - beyond his Dynamite persona - he never really garners more than a smile or a giggle). Jimmy is kind of the ying to Chazz’s yang; the light side to his dark side of the skating force. During one competition Jimmy thinks he has won it hands down, but in swoops Chazz to literally steal his thunder…well…almost. The two tie for the gold, but both hate each other with such a passion that they not only end up fighting on the podium while accepting their medals, but they also inadvertently set fire to the event’s mascot.
The two end up before a committee hearing that does not go very well (note to Chazz: when fighting for your career, don’t tell Nancy Kerrigan – one the panel members – that you want to jump her bones). Despite their appeals, the committee bans them…for life. Soon, the two spiral downwards into the pit of frustration and despair. Chazz eventually ends up working as an extra at a children's ice show whereas Jimmy ends up working at a sporting goods store. Oh, before Jimmy lands that gig, he is disowned by his adoptive father, an American businessman played by William Fichtner.
However, destiny soon taps both on the shoulders. One of Jimmy’s fans, an obsessive gay stalker (which, last I checked, are never very funny in principle) approaches him at his job and tells him of a legal loophole in the system. Yes, Jimmy and Chazz are banned from singles competition, but there is nothing stopping them for paired competition. Chazz also gets wind of this and – with the help of Jimmy’s coach (played by Craig T. Nelson in a role that is not really a stretch for the actor) – they are miraculously convinced to become the world’s first male-male duo on the ice.
Crazy and unbelievable…yes…but this is a Will Ferrell flick, after all.
Their main competition for the gold medal at the games in Montreal are the evil and manipulative Stranz and Fairchild Van Waldenberg (Will Arnett and Amy Poehler, both never utilized to proper effect), who don’t like anyone cramping their styles. They are a brother and sister skating teams whose routines are a bit too incestuous for their own good (as one later and intimate scene with the two demonstrate, incest is also rarely funny). The two will do absolutely anything to stop the Chazz-Jimmy juggernaut, even if it means using their cute and innocent sister (Jenna Fischer) as a secret weapon in a Tanya Harding-scheme of one-upmanship.
Again, the film is populated by big guns of the comedy world, but BLADES OF GLORY never uses them to full capacity. The thought of Heder and Ferrell on the ice together is funny in theory, but the film never really capitalizes on their abilities and strengths. Scenes with the two skating in tandem are kind of sly and funny at first, but the more you watch them and the more you realize that computer effects were used to crop their faces on real figure skaters’ bodies, then most of the comedy is rung out. Perhaps a funnier choice would have been to make the film about an absolutely abysmal skating pair and let the laughs come out from Ferrell and Heder’s incompetence on skates. Unfortunately, both men together in competition are really good, which makes the scenes with them in competition not very funny at all (oh, but it's two men holding hands...hardy-har!). Instead of endlessly chuckling at the two, we seem to spend more time marveling at the visual effects ingenuity of making Ferrell and Heder appear like professional figure skaters. What the makers fail to realize is that the best visual effect they could have used was Ferrell himself.
The film’s satiric edge also lacks serious bite. TALLADEGA NIGHTS, ANCHORMAN, and ZOOLANDER (all featuring Ferrell) seemed kind of spot-on with their sarcastic jabs. BLADES OF GLORY does not really seem to know where to throw its punches. There are some noticeable cameos by skating greats of the past and some get small laughs (Nancy Kerrigan’s reaction to Chazz’s advancements is droll, as is one moment with Sasha Cohen, who squeals like a little girl when Chazz throws her his belt). Yet, BLADES OF GLORY does not know what it wants to say about figure skating. ANCHORMAN commented very humorously about the sexism of the male, 1970’s newsman; RICKY BOBBY successfully lampooned the testosterone driven world of racecar driving; ZOOLANDER made fun of the pettiness and materialism of male models to great effect. BLADES OF GLORY seems a bit clueless with its targets and instead of taking gutsy and aggressive shots at the skating world, it feels more at home with jokes about shots to the groin and infantile bathroom sight gags.
If there is one central flaw when describing BLADES OF GLORY then it would be this: it simply does not sustain a consistent, laugh-out-loud quotient beyond its one-joke premise. The notion of paired men’s figure skaters is kind of funny, but the film never grabs a hold of the comedic possibilities. The film has moments of loopy and ridiculous energy and some of its gags work, but its comedy never reaches for high satiric heights and fails to go for the jugular for its laughs. Even worse, Ferrell has rarely been as rigidly unfunny and unlikeable in a fearless, vanity-free comedic performance. Instead of letting him cut loose with reckless, whimsical abandon, the film makes his character a real creep and replaces Ferrell’s normally unmatched comic energy with obvious visual effects for the skating scenes and lame sight gags. BLADES OF GLORY is a tolerable comedy and a mild diversion, but in no way does it suitably celebrate the mischievous greatness that Ferrell exhibited in ANCHORMAN and TALLADEGA NIGHTS. To loosely paraphrase Ron Burgundy, “Great Odin’s Raven! ‘Blades of Glory’ is pure bush league!”