Blades of Glory

Blades of Glory

David Swindle
Grade: D

Basically, if you've seen the trailer or some of the ads for the new comedy "Blades of Glory" then you've seen the film. There's really not much to it.

The film starts out with two figure skating rivals - the sport's two grand champions - going head to head. The first is Jimmy MacElroy, a young, wholesome lad played by Jon Heder of "Napoleon Dynamite" fame. MacElroy is a precise, highly technical skater with carefully choreographed routines. He's the product of 22 years of intense training sponsored by his adopted father Darren MacElroy (William Fichtner) who adopts talented orphans and trains them to the peak of perfection in their sport. MacElroy's opponent is Chazz Michael Michaels (Will Ferrell) whose background and style are the exact opposite. Michaels' skating is an arrogant swagger filled with improvisations and confidence. He's "sex on ice" with female fans flinging their bras at him.

And so the two rivals end up with a tie for the gold medal. During the medal ceremony some harsh words are exchanged, leading to a full-out brawl on the ice. This leads to both of them being stripped of their medals and banned from competition. Years pass. Michaels is an alcoholic who earns a living by performing in a children's ice skating show. MacElroy is disowned by his adopted father and works in a sporting goods store. It's there that MacElroy's creepy yet friendly stalker reveals a discovery: MacElroy can still compete; he was not banned from pairs' figure skating.

But registration is just two days away and how can he find a qualified partner that quick?! Through some convenient machinations of the plot MacElroy and Michaels are pulled together by MacElroy's former coach (Craig T. Nelson.) And so the bitter rivals must become friends and incorporate both MacElroy's precision and Michaels' improvisations.

They must also overcome a pair of stereotypical PG-13 comedy villains, brother-sister pairs skating champions Stranz (Will Arnett) and Fairchild (Amy Poehler) Van Waldenberg, a diabolical duo willing to cheat and manipulate their way to victory. MacElroy will also pursue the heart of the Van Waldenberg's younger sister Katie Van Waldenberg (Jenna Fischer.) Also of some importance is their mastery of a potentially lethal figure skating move known as the "Iron Lotus."

There are a few pretty obvious problems with all this. As has been said before and is quite apparent from the movie's advertising, it's an "idea comedy." The foundation of the film is not plot, conflict, or characters, it's an idea, barely enough for a Saturday Night Live sketch. That idea is "Wouldn't it be funny if there were two male figure skaters skating together? And all the moves that they do on the ice would look gay! Wouldn't that be funny? Wouldn't the holy 15-25 year-old demographic come out and see that?!"

Is that idea funny? Jon Heder and Will Ferrell in "gay" costumes on the ice, holding one another in homoerotic positions? If that idea strikes one as pure comedic genius and if the ads inspire any kind of desire to see the film, you'll probably enjoy the movie. So just go now and watch it. Or go and watch it a second or third time. No need to finish the review.

Sorry, but there are just some schools of comedy that keep rejecting my applications. One is the "ultra-crazy-intense embarrassment" comedy, movies like "Meet the Parents" and "Meet the Fockers" where you take a decent, sympathetic guy and drag him through hell on a fishhook, sticking him in one painfully embarrassing situation after another. Where's the pleasure in watching someone get socially tortured for ninety minutes? The other is the school that movies like "Blades of Glory" belong to, which is kind of a cousin to the ultra-embarrassment school, namely the "isn't it funny for straight guys to be put in situations where they look like or act like stereotypical gay guys?" school. This mode of humor recently received some notice in a commercial that played during the Super Bowl where two manly men accidentally touched lips while eating a Snickers bar.

So not only is "Blades of Glory" an "idea comedy" but it's also a profoundly unfunny, repetitive, dumb "idea comedy." The character and story are really just weak poles inserted to hold up The Idea. And so, as anyone could see coming from a mile away, the filmmakers slavishly employ The Formula. You know The Formula. You've seen it a hundred times in one form or another. There are two key elements. The first is the misunderstanding or the deception. You've got two or three characters who, over the course of the film, develop a relationship of some kind - usually either a friendship, romantic relationship, or both. And then, at some point two-thirds or three-fourths of the way through the film, one character discovers something about the other character. It could be a lie that the character has been maintaining for much of the film. Or maybe a character walks in on another character in a compromising situation. Or maybe they receive some kind of misinformation from another character.

Then  there is usually a montage of some sort depicting the characters in their sad or frustrated or broken state. This is followed by a chase scene or action sequence in which our protagonist races against time to catch up with his misinformed/confused friend or lover. They then arrive just at the right moment and pour out their heart or manage to complete the grand goal or quest.

You cannot be an American filmgoer without knowing The Formula like the back of your hand. It's as pervasive an element of American cinema as expensive concessions and those torturous, pre-show Fandango commercials with those evil lunch bag puppets.

Understand, though, I'm not necessarily dumping on The Formula. There are plenty of fantastic films that employ it. Really The Formula is only a problem and an annoyance when The Idea is lousy and the characters are boring. Almost any kind of flaw or cliché in a film can be forgiven and overcome if the film has other elements that are stronger, original, or, at the very least, competent. Ever notice that it's generally only in very bad action movies that you fail to suspend disbelief? In well-made action movies you're unlikely to say "Oh come on! That could never happen! What are the chances of that?!" Flaws only tend to stand out when a film fails to suck you in. If you're in that mystical union with the film then you're not critiquing it, you're experiencing it.

I want to make clear that my distaste for "Blades of Glory" is not due to some kind of alleged cinematic elitism. "Oh, well he just doesn't like Will Ferrell's or Adam Sandler's movies. He's too good for dumb humor." Not true! Want an example of such a film that I support? A popular, gross out comedy that employs both lots of gay jokes and The Formula? Exhibit B: "The 40-Year-Old Virgin." There's an original film that's got decent characters, a strong protagonist, and thoughtful themes. And its Idea is much funnier and more inventive than that of "Blades of Glory."

And besides, I'm a hardcore apologist for some of the dumbest, greatest humor to emerge in recent years: the "Jackass" movies and TV shows.

The failure of "Blades of Glory" does not lie with either Ferrell of Heder, both of whom are talented actors. They did their best with what little they had. I can pinpoint with triple axel-like precision just where the guilt belongs. Just look at the screenplay credit. There are five names - always a questionable sign. The first pair are Jeff Cox and Craig Cox. "Blades of Glory" is their first and only credit for anything. Then in the middle is Busy Phillips. She gets a story credit. It's her only screenwriting credit also. She's known for her acting on "ER" and "Dawson's Creek." The fourth is John Altschuler, a writer and co-executive producer for "King of the Hill." The last name is Dave Krinsky, also a writer for "King of the Hill."

The list of inexperience continues with the film's directors, the team of Josh Gordon and Will Speck. It's their first full-length feature. Previously they did two live-action shorts, one of which was nominated for an Oscar. They eke out a bit more respect from me than the screenwriters because at least the film is visually interesting and engaging. When the actors are on the ice the film is at least watchable. This - one of the film's few strengths - at least makes some sense, in addition to their shorts, the directors are responsible for numerous commercials.

All the criticism of the film aside, a simple fact still remains: humor is wildly subjective. With all the failings I've pointed out, many people will still go to "Blades of Glory," enjoy it, and laugh out loud many times. I went with about seven people and was the only one to dislike it. All of them had been anticipating it for weeks and pretty much got the film they were expecting. So if I can confirm a single question with this review, the answer is quite simply: "You're right." If the film looks dumb, it will be dumb. If you think you'll like it, you probably will. As much as I dislike the film at least I can respect it for one thing. It's exactly what it's been advertised to be. What you think you're getting is what you'll get.