Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Blades of Glory

BLADES OF GLORY (Josh Gordon and Will Speck, 2007)

In BLADES OF GLORY the chill in the rink isn't just because of the massive sheet of ice. The rivalry between men's figure skaters Chazz Michael Michaels (Will Ferrell) and Jimmy MacElroy (Jon Heder) is enough to freeze water too.

Michaels emerged from Detroit's underground sewer skating scene to stardom on ice and in pornos. The streetwise, hedonistic Michaels stands in stark contrast to MacElroy, a one-time orphan whose sheltered life has been devoted to the pursuit of gold medals. Tied for gold at the World Wintersport Games, Chazz and Jimmy get in a tussle on the medal stand, an embarrassing episode that gets them banned for life from men's singles competitions.

Fast forward three and a half years later. Chazz drunkenly bumbles through his role as a wizard in a children's ice show to cobble together a living. MacElroy is a pent-up clerk at a skate shop. For Jimmy the upside of still having a stalker fan (Nick Swardson) is that he learns of a loophole in the skating association's rules. There's nothing keeping Jimmy from skating in pairs.

Despite their distaste for one another and the peculiarity of being the first male pair, Chazz and Jimmy team up for their reentry onto the world stage. Under the strict tutelage of Jimmy's former coach (Craig T. Nelson), they work on a routine that strikes fear in the hearts of brother-sister duo Stranz and Fairchild Van Waldenberg (Will Arnett and Amy Poehler).

Chazz and Jimmy may share the spotlight, but BLADES OF GLORY is Ferrell's film. It's a new sport but the same shtick for the TALLADEGA NIGHTS star. The pomposity and self-unawareness Ferrell brings to his character generate regular laughs, although he is in danger of repeating himself one time too many. He's able to overcome the familiar nature of his jokes through sheer force of personality, but he'd be wise to continue to break up his silly comedies with slightly more substantive fare like STRANGER THAN FICTION.

On the other hand, Heder's slack-jawed act is getting old quickly. He's a one-note actor who does fine in support of Ferrell but is too dull to carry scenes on his own. Perhaps he is suffering the curse of debuting with a defining role in NAPOLEON DYNAMITE that he is asked to repeat. Whatever the case, his monotone delivery is better suited for the droll NAPOLEON than the all-out zaniness of BLADES.

The figure skating world provides easy pickings for everyone involved. Real costumes and routines sometimes function as parodies of themselves. The film runs with it, giving Jimmy a ridiculous peacock outfit and having Chazz shoot flames at the end of his performances. The music in figure skating routines tend to run a decade or two behind pop culture, and BLADES OF GLORY does a hilarious send-up of such tone deafness with the Van Waldenbergs doing a dated hip-hop number. (The Van Waldenbergs are also good for some jokes at the expense of sibling pairs whose intimate skating contact raises eyebrows.)

The physical comedy takes care of itself. Ferrell's beefy build is a reliable source of humor. Compared to the lithe top-level athletes, he looks like he belongs nowhere near the ice. Heder's lanky frame and blond mop of hair is an amusing incongruity when he and Ferrell skate together. They look totally ridiculous. If it weren't for the film's bad compositing, it could have used more scenes of their outrageous routines.

BLADES OF GLORY has the sport's absurd elements down cold and skates by on Ferrell's comic bluster. Even the French judge would agree.

Grade: B-

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