Blades of Glory

(2007) ** Pg-13
93 min. Paramount Pictures. Directors: Will Speck, Josh Gordon. Cast: Will Ferrell, Jon Heder, Will Arnett, Amy Poehler, Jenna Fischer.

In the space of about three years, Will Ferrell has headlined ten movies. And if he still hasn't quite worn out his welcome, a movie like Blades of Glory threatens to push him to the saturation point or, shall we say, onto thin ice. The figure-skating comedy reminds us of something that Bewitched proved: throwing Ferrell at a half-baked script isn't enough, despite his innate ability to generate funny toss-offs. Blades of Glory has all the subtlety of a Zamboni, leaving Ferrell to ice-dance as fast as he can.

The former SNL star plays Chazz Michael Michaels, the bad boy of competitive figure skating. Looking like a rabid Neil Diamond and sticking out his tongue like Gene Simmons, Michaels whips up the crowd with absurdly defiant routines. His closest competitor is frosty-coiffed Jimmy MacElroy (Jon Heder, outclassed again), whose routine Michaels brands "Cirque du So-Lame." The World Championship judges don't agree, awarding Jimmy and Chazz a gold-medal tie. Since the sore winners have the emotional maturity of pre-schoolers, they brawl on the podium and earn a ban from skating.

An abrupt three-and-a-half-year time jump later, the discovery of a loophole and a brainstorm in MacElroy's Coach (Craig T. Nelson of TV's Coach—get it?) leads the two disgraced stars grudgingly to agree to become a pairs team (in a missed opportunity, neither attempts and fails to partner with anyone else). Threatened by the competition, creepy brother-and-sister pair Stranz and Fairchild Van Waldenberg (real-life couple Will Arnett and Amy Poehler) resolve to sabotage Chazz and Jimmy. Their secret weapon: little sister Katie Van Waldenberg (Jenna Fischer of The Office). Though sweet-natured, Katie's prone to emotional blackmail, so she reluctantly becomes bait to play sex addict Chazz against her nascent boyfriend Jimmy.

This sounds like a lot more plot than it is. The screenplay—credited to Jeff Cox & Craig Cox, John Altschuler and Dave Krinsky—speed-skates past any character depth, and the jokes too often fall flat; the absence of Ferrell's usual writing partner Adam McKay is deeply felt. The script's failure leaves a heavy burden on the cast, and how well they compensate is both a testament to their talent and a waste of it.

Fischer and Heder have a couple of amusingly awkward courtship scenes, making the sketchiness of the subplot all the more frustrating. Ferrell and Arnett score best in the categories of Artistic Impression and Technical Merit, with each nailing a handful of genuinely funny one-liners and the two sharing the film's only well-thought-out bit of physical comedy: a chase, in skates, on solid ground. Naturally, the margins of the film are populated with luminaries from the world of ice-skating: Scott Hamilton and Jim Lampley (as an announcing duo), Nancy Kerrigan, Brian Boitano, Dorothy Hamill, and Peggy Fleming, among others.

"Frat Pack" movies—starring the likes of Ferrell, Ben Stiller (who executived produced Blades of Glory), Vince Vaughn, Owen Wilson, and the like—always have at least a smattering of funny bits owed to the stars, but there's a distinct difference between a well-oiled comic groove and a flick that keeps jamming on its own underdeveloped script. Blades of Glory falls into the latter category. For every priceless throwaway gag (like Michaels having authored a book called "Let Me Put My Poems In You"), we get a dozen lazy jokes about figure-skating being so "gay," mostly involving the crotches of Ferrell and Heder.

The direction of Will Speck and Josh Gordon does nothing to banish the film's slapdash impression. Washed-out photography and mostly unimaginative staging make little out of the film's biggest opportunity of creative ingenuity: the skating routines themselves, which rely solely on the hilarity of two men skating together. That's amusing for a while, but it gives the picture nowhere to go, so the screenwriters devise the tension-free plot feint of a dangerous move called "The Iron Lotus" (made possible by digital effects, natch).

If your interest is piqued by a comic premise that depends on the presumption of heterosexual pairs skating (no offense, Gay Games), you may enjoy the umpteen variations on it in Blades of Glory. It has its moments, but as comedies go, it's not one for the record books.

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