Quadruple Dull Blades
Pairing Will Ferrell and Jon Heder as figure skaters seemed like a good idea, until the klutzy comedy Blades of Glory unspooled and proved unworthy of a spot on the medal podium. Ferrell rumbles through the movie weighed down by a character he keeps repeating and one that's out-of-place on the ice, though not in a funny way. His scantily-clad body no longer guarantees a laugh. Heder's flat and whiney delivery, so right for the deadpan indie comedy Napoleon Dynamite, wouldn't register with even the most favorably biased judge.
But blame the dance more than the ice dancers. While the costars lack comic chemistry, Blades of Glory was carved out by filmmakers intimately familiar with television sketch comedy yet unable to come up with a stimulating, feature-worthy concept. Five people are credited with the story and screenplay -- a constant loop of one simpleminded joke (a male/male pair's team) and frat-house style banter that ten script doctors and a Zamboni couldn't smooth over. The directing team of Will Speck and Josh Gordon -- taking a break from helming award-winning commercials -- never kicks it out of skit mode.
Figure skating is a big target. There's nothing subtle about the sport, so in order to skewer it you have to take a subversive approach. You can try the more cerebral, mockumentary route that Christopher Guest and his troupe have mastered in features like Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show and A Mighty Wind. Or you can go way over-the-top with a raunchier and edgier parody, which would probably warrant an R rating.
Blades of Glory is caught in between -- in the heavily regulated space of broadcast TV. It would've been a lot funnier if the creative talent on both sides of the camera had let go and exploited all the smarminess festering under the surface. The dignified façade of ice skating has to be maintained for a time and then lanced, or crudely demolished from the outset.
Ferrell's outlaw skater Chazz Michael Michaels, who is addicted to sex and really lives the dimwitted machismo he brings to his routines, doesn't qualify because the overexposed Ferrell is not believable. Heder's fey blade Jimmy MacElroy, an orphan with natural talent and a peacock's ego, is more plausible but still a dullard. The two are banned from the sport after fighting on the podium at the World Championships.
Three-and-a-half years later, Chazz is drinking his way through performances of a down market version of the Ice Capades and Jimmy is selling skates at a sport shop. Jimmy's old coach, played without a snow cone's worth of comic nutrition by Craig T. Nelson, realizes there's one way the two can return to competition: by becoming the first all-male team of ice dancers. They train in secret and learn a daring move sure to stun the figure skating world at the upcoming Olympics.
Because it captures the creepy quality of figure skating, the funniest running gag involves Jimmy's enamored stalker, Hector (Nick Swardson). Amy Poehler and Will Arnett are wasted as the rival duo, siblings Fairchild and Stranz Van Waldenberg. To further burnish the movie's television credentials, Jenna Fischer from The Office is cast as the Van Waldenberg's younger sister, who falls for Jimmy. Lo and behold, her feelings are requited -- which overlooks opportunities for darker and more discomfiting comedy involving Jimmy's sexual proclivities.
There's the obligatory appearance by one of the Wilson brothers (Luke leads a sex addicts' meeting). Fleeting shots of skating legends Dorothy Hamill, Brian Boitano, and Peggy Fleming, plus Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding barely qualify as cameos. Sasha Cohen's moment of glory entails sniffing a jockstrap.
You know something's amiss when ringside commentators Scott Hamilton and Jim Lampley have the best lines. Though it's not one of them, Lampley shares this gem about his excitement late in the movie: "I seem to have wet my pants." If only the viewer could say the same thing.
(Released by Paramount Pictures and rated "R" for crude and sexual humor, language, a comic violent image and some drug references. )