Comedy is a funny thing. There are so many degrees of funny, that it makes it almost impossible to compare one to another. About the best you can to compare different styles (of which there are many) and try to figure out how well the jokes (or even amusing moments) work.
There also plenty of movies where it isn’t enough to judge whether the jokes work or not. One also must gauge how many work. Some may be absolutely brilliant while others fall completely flat. With those types of comedies, a director must simply try to make the good joke/bad joke ratio a positive one. Of course, many of us comedy snobs wish they would simply eliminate the bad ones. Oh well. I guess one can’t be too picky these days.
I only bring this up because the Will Ferrell comedy “Blades of Glory” is at times very funny, but it kept reminding of another Ferrell movie of a similar style: last summer’s Nascar sendup, “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.” They’re both very broad, about a marginalized sport (though ice skating certainly takes the prize in that department) and obviously both star Ferrell. They also feature Ferrell characters that are similar to characters he played on “Saturday Night Live.” Ricky Bobby talked almost exactly like Ferrell’s George W. Bush and had the same cocky swagger.
The “SNL” connection for Chazz Michael Michaels, one of the heroes in “Blades of Glory,” isn’t as obvious, but let me try to describe it. Imagine Ferrell’s version of Robert Goulet. Take away any sense of class and add a mullet, ripped jeans and a tight T-shirt. Make him a rock-and-roller instead of a crooner and add a violent streak. Leave the voice and the rhythm of speech.
All right, maybe it’s a bit of a stretch, but I see it.
Anyway, I thought “Talladega Nights” was one of the funnier movies to be released last year and I probably would have given it the same rating as “Blades of Glory.” Still, I consider “Talladega Nights” to be far superior. While I barely stopped laughing during that movie, I had plenty of opportunities during “Blades of Glory,” to catch my breath, even if some of those laughter lapses were shorter than others. So why would I give them both three stars. I don’t really know. I think drama is just much easier to assess and compare.
Anyway, here’s the premise. Chazz and Jimmy MacElroy (Jon Heder of “Napoleon Dynamite”) were once rival Olympic figure skaters. While it’s hard to imagine the sleazy Chazz actually winning over any real judges, his lack of sophistication on the ice is winningly hilarious. In contrast, Jimmy was adopted by a millionaire (an amusingly callous William Fichter) as a child to be sheer perfection. The prissy and golden-locked Jimmy is, in fact so perfect that it looks like the directors, Josh Gordon and Will Speck, relied heavily on special effects. This obvious touch only makes Jimmy’s routines funnier.
When Chazz and Jimmy tie for the gold medal they get into a big, angry brawl in front of everyone, even catching someone on fire with an Olympic torch. They are banned from singles skating forever. A few years later, Jimmy’s crazed stalker points out a loophole. They could compete as a team. They decide that their own egos are more important to them than their hatred for each other and team up. Of course, there’s the predictable section of the movie where they have to learn to work as a team and one accidentally betrays the other, and yada, yada, yada. It all goes down pretty quickly and smoothly, not to mention mostly hilariously.
There is plenty to laugh at here, but I’ll mention a few of the highlights. First and foremost, there’s Ferrell. Enough said. The heightened sense of popularity of the skaters is so over-the-top, you can’t help but cackle. The very idea that Jimmy is so popular that kids around the country get the same haircut is so absurd, it’s all but impossible not to laugh and go along for the ride.
As the movie reaches its climax, Chazz has to make it to the rink in time to compete. All the while he is chased by Stranz Van Waldnburg (Will Arnett) one half of a brother-sister skating team, (Amy Poehler is the sister). After he steps off the frozen Montreal lake, all Chazz can do is run away very, very slowly. Stranz, also wearing ice skates, tails him in hot pursuit, struggling for balnce as everyone else stares at them.
The jokes can be kind of hit-and-miss, but the movie is mostly successful. My biggest problem with it is actually with Heder. Yes, I thought “Napoleon Dynamite” was funny, at least the first couple of times I saw it. Unfortunately, it became such a pop culture phenomenon, I’m sure I can ever watch it again and still enjoy it in the same way. There are only so many times you can hear kids constantly quote its catch phrases and wear “Vote For Pedro” T-shirts before you stop smiling.
With that said, I want to make clear that it is Heder I don’t like in “Blades of Glory,” not the bad taste his original character ultimately left in my mouth. Actually, Napoleon was a great character and played it remarkably. I’m starting to have doubts, though, about whether he can ever play another role as well. He just does not cut when compared to all the other skilled comic actors on the scene today. I couldn’t help but wonder how Owen Wilson might have played Jimmy, even if he would’ve been a bit too old for the role. Ferrell manages to make you laugh with the slightest gesture or inflection, though his performance is anything but subtle. In contrast, Heder looks out of his league in practically every scene and his performance feels strained. It’s as if he knows how inferior he is and by trying harder, he’s that much worse.
Even so, “Blades of Glory” is still a passable entertainment, especially when considering other comedies we have to choose from right now. “Are We Done Yet?” is not my idea of a good time.
"Blades of Glory" is rated PG-13: Parents strongly cautioned.