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Blades of Glory

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 03/30/07 00:00:00

"No one knows what it means. It's provocative!"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

“Blades of Glory” should not be good. It should not be funny. It is supposed to be tired. Weak. Annoying. Hideous. Its stars should be phoning in retreads of characters they’ve done to death in better comedies, rehashing stale material with all the verve of performers dreading the unworkable punchlines some hack wrote for them, all in the name of a quick paycheck.

More troubling: the screenplay is credited to five writers, two of them former sitcom staffers, two of them newcomers, and one of them an actress (the lovely Busy Phillips) who nabbed a “story by” co-credit. One can only imagine the sort of on-set tinkering had with the script once it hit the filming stage, considering the involvement of several comedians known for crafting their own material. Also, it took two directors to helm the project, both of them making their feature debut. Surely, too many cooks will not only spoil this broth, but they will let it go all cold and mushy. “Blades of Glory” should be lukewarm, stinky, spoiled soup.

But no. “Blades of Glory” is instead a very good, an incredibly funny, fresh, wild, wonderful comedy, the sort of movie you have to see twice because you were laughing so hard, you missed half the jokes the first time around. It is, plainly, the very movie I never expected to see when I sat down to watch “Blades of Glory.”

The movie stars Will Ferrell, who at first glance plays a not-so-varied variation on his Clueless Braggart character (“Anchorman,” “Talladega Nights”), and Jon Heder, who at first glance, etc., etc., his Whiny Loser character (“Napoleon Dynamite,” “The Benchwarmers”). And yet they make such magic with these familiar types, the variations quite well played. Ferrell’s best trip into his Clueless Braggart routine is his Ron Burgundy; his Ricky Bobby was more of a toned-down, nice-guy rendition. Here, as professional figure skating’s “bad boy” Chazz Michael Michaels, he returns to the realm of the repugnant doofus, branching off from Ron Burgundy by infusing a pinch of his old Neil Diamond and Robert Goulet impersonations, plus a whole new bit of comic idiocy exclusive to his role here.

Heder, meanwhile, seemed doomed to forever play unimaginative reruns of his Napoleon Dynamite; a horrible curse considering that character’s one-note (lack of) appeal. Now comes “Blades of Glory,” and it turns out all he needed was some solid material. Heder’s performance here is assured in its comedy and amiable in its personality, and while he’s still sticking to familiar territory, he’s showing an increasing mastery of comic timing. His Jimmy MacElroy, spoiled pretty boy of the skating scene, is both sweet and ridiculous. Heder’s so good in the role, one wonders where he’s been hiding this talent the past few years.

In fact, everyone here seems to improve on an already set type. Our villains are rival skaters Will Arnett and Amy Poehler, both playing showboating twits. Rob Corddry makes a quick appearance as a sleaze. Jenna Fischer is the soft-spoken sweetheart. All of them do the same old routine, yet all of them make the same old routine very, very funny. Perhaps having outsiders write the characters kept them from sticking too closely to their old ways; perhaps we just got lucky with a smart script and fresh performances. (Heck, even friend of this website Nick Swardson manages to turn in a not-horrible-at-all routine based on the same character he always plays, the strangely effeminate creep. Hooray for Nick!)

The story (or, as it’s known in this film, “the excuse for all the jokes”) kicks off with Chazz and Jimmy being banned from skating following unsportsmanlike conduct at the “World Wintersport Games” (or, as it’s known by people watching this film, the “We Couldn’t Afford the Olympics’ Trademark Games”). Years later, a loophole is discovered, allowing them to return to the sport they love - as the world’s first male-male figure skating pair.

A scenario like this seems ripe for homophobia at its most vile finger-pointingest, and yet the filmmakers manage to avoid turning every comic set piece into cruelty. The laughs are here, yes, and they are at the expense of two men having to be quite intimate with each other (their first routine is an up-close ballet set to Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing”), yet they are never actually about the idea of two men being intimate as ridiculous or gross. The humor comes from the inane routine itself, full of overplayed interpretive dance movements and flashy costuming; it helps that both Ferrell and Heder put their all into every bit of physical comedy. And when the jokes do tackle the guy-on-guy angle, it’s still never mean - Chazz’s intense heterosexuality and goofball macho behavior (he defines himself as “an ice-devouring sex tornado”) underlines all those shots of him grimacing as he lifts Jimmy by the Zamboni, or plant his face right at Jimmy’s Boitanos.

(There is a minor montage in which fans comment on the double-dude pairing, yet it plays more as a lampooning of anti-gay sentiment than an approval of it.)

The majority of the movie is split between random goofball humor (“We love you, Denver! City by the Bay!!”), sports movie cliché (with tongue in cheek, natch), and a heavy understanding of what makes figure skating so easy to parody. The flashy costumes, the ill-advised attempts to incorporate pop culture, the music, the egos, the insanity. “Blades of Glory” goes so far over the top in its spoofery that we scrape the clouds, doubled over in laughter all the way.

I have not seen “Culture,” the 1998 short film that earned directors Josh Gordon and Will Speck an Academy Award nomination, but I have seen many of the commercials the pair has directed since (including a string of spots for Geico, including those admittedly funny cavemen ads). Now that I have seen “Blades of Glory,” I can comfortably declare them filmmakers with a spot-on knack for screen comedy.

The proof comes throughout the entire picture, of course, but their greatest work arrives late in the story, as Will Arnett chases Will Ferrell across Montreal on skates. Arriving on dry land, the two find it impossible to chase any further without removing their blades, and so they defiantly stumble and wobble through the town, treating their dead-stop actions with the same verve as the high-speed pursuit. In its pacing, its rhythms, its physical insanities, the sequence displays an absolute mastery of all things comedy.

And while the movie’s far from perfect (admittedly, several scenes stumble, some of the skating in-jokes are fumbled in an attempt for non-skating fans to also “get it,” and ultimately the movie doesn’t hit its full potential until around the half hour mark), this sequence alone is enough to make me eager to see what they’ll have for us next. Not bad for two directors, five writers, and a cast of rehashed characters.

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