The Theory of Chaos

Friday, April 20, 2007

MOVIE REVIEW - Blades of Glory

Full review behind the jump

Blades of Glory

: Josh Gordon and Will Speck
: Story by Jeff Cox & Craig Cox and Busy Philipps, Screenplay by Jeff Cox & Craig Cox and John Altschuler & David Krinsky
Producers: Stuart Cornfeld, John Jacobs, Ben Stiller
: Will Ferrell, Jon Heder, Will Arnett, Amy Poehler, Jenna Fischer, William Fichtner, Craig T. Nelson, Romany Malco, Nick Swardson

The idea of Will Ferrell as a figure skater is funny, both because of his gift for playing deluded egomaniacs and his inappropriately lumpy physique. The idea of two straight male figure skaters competing in couples’ skating, with its lifts and embraces and romantic routines, is also funny, because it forces all kinds of squidgy palpitations within the jock’s comfort zone. And amping up the testosterone in such an inherently frilly and precious sport – that’s a funny idea, too.

Blades of Glory
unfolds like a multi-car pile-up of these promising ideas, serving none by trying to accommodate all. It’s a lot to ask for us to laugh at Ferrell’s love handles, and then somehow believe that by digitally pasting his face on a skating double’s body, we can re-suspend our disbelief and buy him as the best in his sport. That kind of maneuver would put anybody out of joint.

If nothing else, it’s a vital demonstration of just how difficult it is to do Will Ferrell’s trademark comedy well – unlike
Anchorman and Talladega Nights he and long-time collaborator Adam McKay did not participate in the scripting process of this picture, and the result sounds exactly like what it is: a roomful of people whose movie is getting made because they have Will Ferrell in it, trying to supply him with “Ferrell-esque” dialogue. They fail to realize that the more they try and cater to his strengths (and with spotty success at that), the more they undercut their own premise. It’s not to say I didn’t laugh; but for all the gags that worked, just as many, if not more, glided by without impact, unsure of their destination.

Ferrell plays Chazz Michael Michaels, rock-and-roll rebel of the figure skating world – commentators breathlessly describe him as “An ice-devouring sex tornado!” That gets us off on the right foot. But the intensity of his rivalry with Jimmy MacElroy (Jon Heder) – a blond waif of such excruciating optimism his voice-mail message actually says “If you can dream it, you can do it!” – causes an incident that gets both of them banned for life from competitive skating.

MacElroy’s story contains all sorts of juicy inspiration – an orphan skating prodigy, he was adopted by the casually-sociopathic Darren McElroy (William Fichtner), a racehorse breeder who decides to start acquiring orphans to train into superstar athletes. There’s a whole movie to be had there, but Blades of Glory just leaves this whole plotline by the roadside and lazily settles for herding buddy picture clichés into the sports movie cattle fencing.

Via the same old rulebook chicanery that lets movie dogs play basketball and mules kick field goals, the rivals scheme their way back into competition by becoming a team. MacElroy’s old Coach (Craig T. Nelson), becomes the Dad figure to their sibling-like squabbles as they go through the requisite training montages, and marvels at the opportunities presented by two muscular men performing maneuvers no mixed-gender couple would attempt.

You need to create an alchemical reaction to both mock something while simultaneously investing us in it. Blades of Glory knows that sports movies have a built-in advantage, both in their structure leading up to The Big Match, and in the natural thrill of competition. We want to see our heroes achieve. But the strange excesses of figure skating itself loom before the filmmakers like a fat piñata. They score some fat thwacks at it, but at what cost to the rest of our relationship with what’s unfolding?

The movie just keeps changing its mind about what it’s hitching its wagon to. It is fun to hear the nonsense eloquence of a spat between Ferrell and Heder when the movie decides to be about that. I can’t make up my mind whether Heder is actually a solid comedic actor, or simply an earnest presence with the singular ability to make crinkly disdain sound both musical and air-headed. The screenplay plays to that strength. He may coast for awhile longer on the immortal aura of Napoleon Dynamite; I’ll be interested to see what happens when he’s finally outside of his comfort zone.

But just when we could be exploring the warped territory the partnership of Michaels and MacElroy is moving towards, we also have a rivalry with the snippy brother-sister duo of Stranz and Fairchild Van Waldenberg (Will Arnett and Amy Poehler), frequent champions determined to see their turf remain unencroached. This leads to scheming and cackling. And then there’s the younger Van Waldenberg sister, Katie (Jenna Fischer) – she and MacElroy make gooey faces at each other and their courtship gets sucked into the vortex of plots as well.

I won’t say this stuff can’t all be forced into cohesion – just look at the way Ferrell’s own Anchorman managed to mock, satirize, and plain goof off without ever puncturing its rainbow bubble of weirdness. But freshman feature directing team Josh Gordon and Will Speck cannot assert their own voice within Blades of Glory, they are content to let everyone try their hardest and hope it all sorts itself out. There’s a movie that makes you laugh a few times, and there’s a good comedy. This is in the first category.


  • I am not a big fan of either of the main actors, but, I actually thought the movie was pretty funny.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:08 PM  

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