Blades of Glory

Coming after Dodgeball and Beerfest but before Hot Rod or Balls of Fury, Blades of Glory landed in theaters squarely in the middle of Hollywood’s mock-sports parade. The comedy subgenre’s formula is simple: plug outlandish characters into a sport not known for its cinematic intensity, (or not known much at all), creating a story that can be milked for spoofy laughs as well as, secretly, a ready-made traditional underdog plot.

The sport in question here is pair’s figure skating; an additional comic twist comes from the pairing of two men, rival skaters Chazz Michael Michaels (Will Ferrell) and Jimmy MacElroy (Jon Heder), who were banned from singles skating after a post-medal dust-up. To the film’s credit, the tension is based more on personality than gay panic; Jimmy’s preening fussiness (Heder takes a few baby steps away from Napoleon Dynamite) versus Chazz’s ridiculous arrogance, (a Ferrell specialty).

In addition to its central pair, Blades of Glory overflows with talent. The bad guys are a hilariously creepy sibling pair played by real-life husband and wife Will Arnett and Amy Poehler. Their sympathetic sister is played by Jenna Fischer (The Office); Romany Malco, and a deadpan Craig T. Nelson provide support and several more comedians have cameo appearances. Aside from the mock-sports category Blades also fits into the unofficial series of films that are heavy on improvisation and absurdism and light on sentiment from comedy’s current ruling class (including Ferrell, Vince Vaughn, Owen Wilson, and Ben Stiller, who produced Blades but doesn’t appear on screen).

Blades is about par for a mock-sports film and maybe a step or two above, with its hilarious character back stories and tossed-off Ferrellisms. But compared to the best recent studio comedies it’s, if not quite second-tier, more of a brisk, disposable amusement than an instantly rewatchable classic. The script and its associated jokes are less inspired than Ferrell’s collaborations with Adam McKay — in fact, this film feels more like a decent imitation of something like Anchorman or Talladega Nights, with Ferrell giving a committed but unsurprising run-through of his mediocre-American-man routine. Blades of Glory lacks the fearless tangents of those films; but it’s cut almost too tight, with only a few precious moments afforded to Arnett, Poehler, and Fischer, all funny in different but harmonious keys.

The DVD release feels like an effort to beef up the film’s comic credibility. First-time directors Josh Gordon and Will Speck don’t provide a commentary track. The centerpiece of the disc’s extras is a set of several ample deleted scenes, garnished with alternate takes with the actors trying out different lines. In short, it is a collection of comedic riffs of various sizes.

Sometimes these comic extensions encompass entire plot twists or subplots: one scene reveals that Chazz and Jimmy grew up at the same orphanage, and brings mock-depth to Chazz’s hostility toward his rival; another dispatches a supporting character with a stalker’s bullet. The weirdest and therefore possibly most valuable is a sequence that gives an in-movie genesis to the Bo Bice song that plays, with vague but unexplained irony, over the closing credits (as well as a music video included on the disc). It turns out that Chazz composed “Blades of Glory,” the song, on keytar, a deeply Ferrell-esque touch, in earnest tribute to his new figure-skating partnership. Scenes like this reveal that Blades of Glory has more comedy than it knows what to do with.

Doubtless these excesses, mostly agreeable and some hilarious, are a byproduct of the film’s talented cast. If Arnett and Poehler get too little screen-time in the actual film, fans can soak up a gloriously goofy joint interview. “A Family Affair” has them fielding questions about their working relationship, including the question of who is funnier (Arnett describes Poehler as having “the heart of the champion who never was a champion… the heart of the runner-up”), and whether two funny people might produce an extraordinarily funny child (they think no, envisioning a brooding “baby Sean Penn”).

Elsewhere, Arnett joins Ferrell and Heder in a “Moviefone Unscripted” Q&A session, apparently originally part of promotional wireless content. The improvisations and goofing around are less than essential, but still impressive for their sustained silliness. These moments, as well as the comic detail visible in a featurette on the film’s skating costumes, make you appreciate the sustained silliness of the movie itself. At this point, it takes genuine pros to make the mock-sport movie look like a worthwhile competition.

RATING 6 / 10