Monday, April 02, 2007

Blades of Glory / ***½ (PG-13)

Chazz Michael Michaels: Will Ferrell
Jimmy MacElroy: Jon Heder
Stranz Van Waldenberg: Will Arnett
Fairchild Van Waldenberg: Amy Poehler
Katy Van Waldenberg: Jenna Fischer
Darren MacElroy: William Fitchner
Coach: Craig T. Nelson

DreamWorks SKG and MTV Films present a film directed by Will Speck and Josh Gordon. Written by Jeff Cox & Craig Cox and John Altschuler & Dave Krinsky and Busy Philips. Running time: 93 min. Rated PG-13 (for crude and sexual humor, language, a comic violent image and some drug references).

Comedy is hard. I don’t know who originally introduced this idea, although it was most likely a comedian. But it’s a phrase that critics rarely take into consideration. In the world of film criticism, comedy is rarely taken seriously. Well, the paradox in that thinking should be obvious. Comedy is not meant to be taken seriously.

It is tempting as a critic to look for meaning and depth in everything that we dissect. There is no meaning and depth in the new figure skating farce “Blades of Glory”. None is intended. All that is asked of the audience is that we laugh. And throughout this particular comedy, I laughed hard.

“Blades of Glory” tells the story of two of the world’s top male figure skaters, bitter rivals who represent the sport’s two ends of the spectrum. Jimmy MacElroy, played by Jon Heder (“Napoleon Dynomite”), is the traditional skater. He was plucked at the early age of four by a former horse trainer (snicker) who adopted him for the soul purpose of breeding a champion. His technical skill on the rink is matched by no one. His beauty is matched only by the female skaters, and only some of them.

Chazz Michael Michaels, as portrayed by Will Farrell (“Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby”), is MacElroy’s polar opposite. He is a grand stander, the sport’s bad boy from the wrong side of the tracks. He came up through the tough-as-nails ranks of sewer speed skating under the streets of Motown. He is a sexual dynamo (not to mention addict), and he knows it. Although considering Ferrell’s physique, it’s questionable whether anyone else agrees.

After the two are kicked out of singles competition for life for getting into a knock down, drag out fight on the medals podium after tying for the gold, they decide to team up for the pairs competition and a second chance at glory. The writers have a lot of fun exploring the differences between the two, but it’s when things start to click between Chazz and Jimmy that the comedy finds most of its life. The skating sequence during their first competition together is rib splitting from the moment they appear as their costumed personas Fire & Ice to the wince-inducing finale. The skating performances are far from realistic but do a fine job in milking the clichés of figure skating for comedic effect.

Directors Josh Gordon and Will Speck have done wonders immersing their production into the unique world of international figure skating. From the over dramatic personality profiles the television coverage puts together to the ridiculously themed costuming and choreography of the skating routines, this film takes the nearly absurd reality of the figure skating establishment and pushes it just past that point of absurdity into pure comedic farce.

It’s wonderful to see so many figure skating stars, from past (Peggy Fleming) and present (Sacha Cohen), so willing to poke fun at their sport. But real-life Olympic figure skating commentators Scott Hamilton and Jim Lampley threaten to steal the show with a spoof commentary worthy of Fred Willard’s color commentary in “Best In Show”.

Once Chazz and Jimmy earn their entry into the World Winter Games, they must contend with the less than ethical tactics of the reigning pairs champions, the brother and sister team of Stranz and Fairchild Van Waldenberg. The pair is played with thick comedic sinistry by Amy Poehler (“Saturday Night Live”) and Will Arnett (of the overlooked sitcom “Arrested Development”). This pair is so sick they even choose to lounge around in costumes as outrageous as those they wear in the ice.

The Van Waldenberg’s family history is even more hilarious than Chazz and Jimmy’s backgrounds. They have a little sister, Katy (Jenna Fischer, NBC’s “The Office”), who was obviously the unwanted child and family scapegoat, even drawing the blame for their parents’ tragic death. Stranz and Fairchild enlist Katy to spy on Chazz and Jimmy, but she ends up falling for the flowery Jimmy instead.

Plenty of room is also made for supporting and cameo performances to fill every inch of film with laughs. Craig T. Nelson shows up as the male pair’s coach, with a little nod to his long-running television character of the same title. Frequent Ferrell collaborators Luke Wilson and Rob Corddry lend their talents and Nick Swardson (“Grandma’s Boy”) appears as a stalker fan of Jimmy’s. Be sure to stick around for his credit cookie.

“Blades of Glory” is silly, yet filled with original jokes and ideas. While it may not transcend ideas of meaning and depth, it is transcendent in terms of absurd comedy. This makes it more valuable than many will give it credit. The plot will not change the course of comedy filmmaking, but the humor is relentless and grossly detailed. What a nice touch to have the mascot of each Winter Games mutilated in some way each time we see it. “Blades of Glory” will make you laugh; if you go into it with the impression that it should achieve some other goal, perhaps you lack a sense of humor. In which case, what you seek is provided here in spades.

No comments: