If you’ve been paying any attention to the site lately, then you’ve probably already read our damn good back and forth with Will Arnett and Amy Poehler regarding Blades of Glory. Hilarious stuff. And if you were on the fence about the film, that probably did a lot to push you over toward seeing it. After all, it is starring Will Ferrell in trademark unhinged mode. It’s got Arnett and Poehler as the antagonists. There’s lots of comedy stalwarts in smaller supporting roles like Romany Malco, Rob Corddry, and Nick Swardson. Hell, it’s even directed by the Geico Caveman commercial guys. Oh, and I didn’t even mention Jenna Fischer, who gets a scene to parade around (awkwardly, but intentionally so) in hot lingerie. What more do you need?
Well, a much funnier movie would be at the top of that list. The sad fact is Blades of Glory has every reason in the world to be a very funny and entertaining film, but just isn’t. This is a movie that fundamentally misunderstands the talent it’s given to work with, and while you can see Arnett and Ferrell doing their best to liven the proceedings with random ad-libs and unscripted quirks, they’re constrained at every turn by a one-joke script that gets old quickly. It’s not helped by the over simplistic story which starts with co-stars Ferrell and Jon Heder at the top of their game as showy, polar opposite Olympic skate champs who get in a public fracas, get banned, and then must re-enter the sport as a couple, thereby introducing lots of homoerotic humor and placing them squarely in the evil sights of America’s top skating couple, Stranz and Fairchild Van Waldenberg (Arnett and Poehler). Along the way, Heder’s Jimmy MacElroy falls for the sweet, shy Van Waldenberg sister, Katie (Fischer), and their forbidden coupling is the only other subplot of the film.
Although it’s no flimsier, plotwise, than most other modern mainstream comedies, those films tend to work in one of two distinct formulas. The first is starting with a raucous premise, but supplementing it with a good story and genuinely likeable and real characters that keep you invested in the movie between joke onslaughts and sight gags (e.g. The 40 Year Old Virgin). The second is to start with a raucous premise, throw narrative reason and characterization to the wolves, and then let your improv-happy stars go off on every tangent they please so that they’re free to fully unleash their talents, logic be damned (e.g. Anchorman). Rather than stick to either of those lanes, Blades of Glory adheres to strict convention about romantic comedy plotting (it’s just that the “romance” is between its two male leads), thereby curtailing the chance for improvisation and weird tangents, yet just can’t be bothered to give any sort of distinction to its characters so that you care where any of them go or end up. It’s the worst of both worlds.
Thus, Ferrell’s Chazz Michaels-Michaels is really just a dull Xerox of his previous attempts to refine the undeservedly egotistical manchild persona that is his signature. Heder’s Jimmy MacElroy (and this is probably more a fault of Heder’s limited range than the script) evokes Napoleon Dynamite a whole lot more than he should. The stale formula continues right down to the prominent announcing team of Jim Lampley and Scott Hamilton, who try (and fail miserably) to pepper the film with smaller jokes like Dodgeball’s dynamic duo of Gary Cole and Jason Bateman. There’s just far too much “been there, done that” in this movie. The supporting cast fares no better. Poehler and Arnett are handcuffed by repetitive scenes of scheming and manipulating Fischer to sabotage our heroes’ comeback attempt, so they rarely get a chance to strut their stuff. There’s even less for bit players like William Fichtner and Craig T. Nelson to do. Their brief scenes are pretty much joke-free, so if you’re not already slapping your knee at their mere presence in this film, don’t expect anything once you see them onscreen. There’s some innuendo indicating some sort of gay history between Nelson and Romany Malco’s choreographer character, but this film is only comfortable skirting the edge of homophobia for a few broad jokes and doesn’t have the time or inclination to focus on a genuine male romantic relationship.
In a way, none of this really matters. This is a concept-driven film, and if the concept of two supposed straight guys being figure-skating maverick rivals who are forced to uncomfortably team as a man and a woman would doesn’t make you laugh before you see a frame of this film, the odds are that no amount of talent could fully redeem it. Even the talent in this film are basically pre-selling themselves, which is why the jokes you see Will Ferrell doing in the commercials are indistinguishable from his Ricky Bobby or Ron Burgundy material. But just evoking prior, funnier films isn’t enough. But in that spirit, I can sum up this film perfectly. Blades of Glory is really the Black Sheep of Will Ferrell movies, if you would consider Talladega Nights or Anchorman to be his Tommy Boy. It isn’t completely devoid of laughs, but damn, it should be a whole lot better given the talent involved. And while Ferrell’s schtick has been aging not too gracefully for a bit now, this film basically digs the grave for it and starts the dirt pour on top. It’s certainly possible for him to continue to milk this for a few more films still, but the principle of diminishing returns is already in full effect. The question is how much longer will we continue to enable it?