BLADES OF GLORY - HD DVD review

...humorous fluff at best but formulaic and predictable.

John J. Puccio's picture
John J.
Puccio

If you're a fan of Will Ferrell's previous satiric roles in things like "Anchorman" and "Talladega Nights," you might like him in 2007's "Blades of Glory." But if you think he's simply over-the-top in moronic comedies, you'll get no relief here. Same thing with his co-star, Jon Heder. Some folks found "Napoleon Dynamite" hilarious; others found it tedious. It's kind of a 50/50 split. A few parts of "Blades" are uproariously funny, while most other parts are routine and dumb. I wish it had been more consistent, but there you are.

"Blades of Glory" is kind of a one-note affair, actually, and when it's stretched as far as this one is, it gets old in a hurry. Here's the deal: Ferrell and Heder play bitter rivals in the world of professional, international skating, and one day they tie for the gold. On the podium accepting their medals, they get into a brawl, and the National Skating Federation bans them forever from singles competition.

Ah, but three years later they come up with a plan: A loophole in the bylaws allows them to compete outside their division and team up as a pair, with Jimmy's old coach (Craig T. Nelson, who else?) guiding them. They become "the first male-male pair team in the history of the sport." And that's the single note. Now, this might have worked as a fifteen-minute sketch or even a thirty-minute television segment, but for ninety minutes it's stretching the point.

Think of it as "Ice Skating: Men in Tights." Ferrell and Heder get a lot of mileage out of their fancy sequined costumes and the fact that they're both men in a world of men-women teams. They also get too much mileage out of homophobic gags and crotch jokes, but we might have expected that.

Neither main character is very likeable. Ferrell plays Chazz Michael Michaels, a disgusting, overweight, sex-addicted, macho man on skates. One of his promos tells us he is "an ice-devouring sex tornado, spawned in the hellholes of Motown," who began his career in sewer skating and adult filmmaking. Pretty silly stuff. Heder plays his opposite, Jimmy MacElroy, a flamboyant, slightly effeminate crowd pleaser, who grew up a privileged prodigy, cared for and nurtured by an arrogant billionaire, Darren MacElroy (William Fichtner), who adopted him as a child to raise as a champion.

Chazz and Jimmy are different in every way, the outlaw and the golden boy, a situation the filmmakers hope will create the movie's tension and comedy. Sometimes it works; often it's too obvious and overdone. Ferrell is a bigger-than-life slob, Heder is all Napoleon Dynamite innocence, and it's not enough to sustain an entire movie.

So, in order to have something happen, the script incorporates a couple of villains, a brother-and-sister skating team of snakes, Stranz and Fairchild Van Waldenberg (Will Arnett and Amy Poehler). They are super-phony sweet and will do anything to win. Think of Tonya Harding here, and you'll get a pretty good idea what they're up to. Then, there is a romantic interest for Jimmy in the person of the Van Waldenberg's younger sister, Katie (Jenna Fischer), with the usual complications and misunderstandings.

The movie's co-directors, Josh Gordon and Will Speck, did "Blades of Glory" as their first feature-length, big-screen movie together, so we can forgive them some rookie mistakes. Fortunately, they had two co-producers in Ben Stiller and Stuart Cornfeld who had previously done the satires "Dodgeball" and "Starsky and Hutch." Fortunately, too, they had the good sense to use real-life skating stars Scott Hamilton, Nancy Kerrigan, Dorothy Hamill, Brian Boitano, and Peggy Fleming in cameos, as well as real-life announcer Jim Lampley and, for no particular reason, Luke Wilson in their cast.

I enjoyed some of the movie's first thirty minutes or so, and then it started to lose me. Around halfway through, I was about to give up, the story and characters getting much too absurd for me, when the infamous North Korean "Iron Lotus" newsreel clip came along, and I laughed so hard my eyes teared up and I had to shut off the player for a time. That one interlude doesn't make "Blades of Glory" a great comedy, but for that moment I can forgive it a lot of its faults.

"They're laughing at us," says Jimmy when he and Chazz do their first routine together. "Hey," says Chazz, "they laughed at Louie Armstrong when he said he was going to the moon...." It's that kind of comedy. Either you find it funny or you don't. I found "Blades of Glory" amusing only in spurts, with a couple of admittedly big laughs. It's fairly humorous fluff at best but formulaic and predictable, too. As I say, there you are.

Video:
The movie's video engineers transferred the original 1.85:1 screen ratio via MPED4AVC 1080p high resolution, nicely filling out a 16x9 widescreen television. They maintained very deep black levels, so colors stand out well, more intense and gaudy than real life, it's true, yet suitable to a cartoonish farce like this one. Overall definition is good, but it's more sharply etched in close-ups than in medium shots, which can look somewhat soft. I suspect this is the way the film played in theaters, though, so I wouldn't worry. Otherwise, a clean screen sets off the image quite well.

Audio:
The Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 sound does what it can with a soundtrack that is mainly loud and clamorous. It deals primarily with dialogue, crowd noise, and background music, handling them with wide dynamics and decent bass when called upon. Although the surrounds convey mostly the tumult of the spectators and some musical ambience enhancement, they get their place in the sun, too, like during the fireworks of the finale. Otherwise, the sonics are a touch forward and bright and not as smooth as they could be for ultimate reality.

Extras:
There is certainly no lack of extras on the HD DVD, most of them in high definition. It's just that much of the material is either redundant and ordinary or too consciously cute. Anyway, things begin with a series of featurettes. The first is "Return to Glory: The Making of Blades of Glory" (HD), about fifteen minutes, a sort of mockumentary with serious information added. Next is "Celebrities on Thin Ice" (HD), six minutes with skating choreographer Sarah Kawahara tutoring Will and Jon on skating technique. After that is "Cooler Than Ice: The Super-Sexy Costumes of Skating" (HD), four minutes on the elaborate costumes the actors wore; "Arnett and Poehler--A Family Affair" (HD), six minutes with the couple; "20 Questions With Scott Hamilton" (HD), five minutes of give and take; "Hector: Portrait of Psychofan" (HD), three minutes with Nick Swardson, the actor in character as the film's stalker; and "Moviefone Unscripted With Will Ferrell, Jon Heder, and Will Arnett," about ten minutes.

Next are four deleted scenes (HD), around nine minutes total; then eight minutes of alternate takes (HD); a two-minute gag reel (HD); a series of three photo galleries; a four-minute music video, "Blades of Glory," performed by Bo Bice (with the best sound on the disc); and about a minute and a half of MTV interstitials (brief promotionals).

The extras conclude with twelve scene selections but no chapter insert; English, French, and Spanish spoken languages; and English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese subtitles, with English captions for the hearing impaired. As always on Paramount/DreamWorks' HD DVDs, there are pop-up menus, a guideline of elapsed time, and an Elite Red HD case.

Parting Shots:
I couldn't help thinking after watching "Blades of Glory" that both Ferrell and Heder were pretty much following their previous screen portrayals, and I started wondering if it was a good thing for them to get too associated with a single characterization. Typecasting and all that. They both seem to have latched onto their favorite caricatures, and let's hope it doesn't pigeonhole them.

As for "Blades of Glory" as a movie, while it's not going to win any awards, and it gets bogged down in too much frantic craziness, it does contain several moments of boisterous merriment that may be enough to make it worthwhile, depending on your tolerance for such foolishness. I'd have preferred that the movie be more satiric, more outrageous, and more original, but, then, I'm a critic so you'd expect me to be tougher than most audiences, no?

Ratings

Video
8
Audio
7
Extras
6
Film Value
6