Surprisingly funny at times, 'Blades' takes a one-joke premise and successfully milks it into an often amusing comedic take on the world of figure skating. Sadly though, it also lacks truly memorable characters or genuinely inventive laughs that put it up there with the classics - even though it ain't far off.
Will Ferrell stars as Chazz Michael Michaels, ice skating's booze-soaked, sex-addicted bad boy - a macho man who'd seem more at home at a Springsteen concert than on the ice. His rival is Jon Heder's Jimmy MacElroy, an effeminate flaxon-haired child prodigy raised by his millionaire stepfather (William Fichtner in a superb understated cameo that eviscerates soccer dad mentality) to become the golden boy of skating.
After they tie for the Gold Medal, a subsequent brawl at the disastrous presentation ceremony leads to both of them being banned for life from their division. Stuck in washed up jobs, the pair discover a loop hole - they can compete as a pair. Despite their mutual hatred, the duo are soon back on the ice as the first male-male figure skaters - something which does not sit well with current, vaguely incestuous, sibling champion pair the Van Waldenbergs (Will Arnett and Amy Poehler) who set out to bring them down.
It's a tired and familiar premise, movie comedies rarely delve into truly original or compelling narratives any more, and unfortunately this one adheres to it a little too strictly at times. The result is some of the laughs do misfire, whilst at other times there are quiet moments that would've benefited from more or longer actor improvisation scenes - the kind of unscripted humor that made other one-joke plotless stories like "The 40 Year Old Virgin" and "Anchorman" into what they are - funny, albeit over-rated, character-driven comedies.
Yet when it hits, which it does most of the time, it scores high. Broad, rather than biting laughs are the order of the day with jokes about faces in crotches, frilly suits, and even a video of a North Korean ice skating move which leads to accidental dismemberment. There's all the potential for the film to be dangerously homophobic with this material, yet it's smart enough that at every turn it avoids that pitfall - even notably making the film's two most vital and understated supporting roles into a gay couple.
The performances are also key with strong (though familiar) turns from all involved. Ferrell, once again riffing on the ego-driven male chauvinist routine that's become his forte, has fun and for once doesn't force himself to be the focus of all attention in his scenes - allowing the jokes to work without his domineering presence. It's a slightly more subdued take than last year's "Talladega Nights" and consequently the film is better for it.
Heder once again does his somewhat awkward geek routine and also plays it a little more relaxed and assertive than his previous efforts. He and Ferrell play off each other well, making an interesting comic duo you'd like to see again, and are held together by the film's real quiet achiever - Craig T. Nelson who delivers his best work in years as the pair's coach. Nelson, along with Jenna Fischer as Heder's blossoming love interest, ground the movie from going too far off into silly territory - even with a "Superman"-esque ending.
Arnett and Poehler try what they can as the antagonists of the film, but despite a few quirks are stuck mostly plotting bad schemes to take down the duo. Arnett gets a great chase sequence with Ferrell, but sadly they're the film's weakest point and really deserved more time and better lines to flesh out the characters. Various skating celebrities pop up in cameos but none of them really strike with the kind of fire that actors like Gary Cole or Sacha Baron Cohen did with other sports-themed comedies of late such as "Dodgeball" and 'Talladega'. Nancy Kerrigan is good for a laugh though - you go girl.
Helping a lot are the production values which are excellent. The assorted skating costumes are informed and inspired genius, the music choices solid (Flash Gordon, Don't Want To Miss A Thing, etc.), the locations and sets believable and wintry, and the actual skating shot well - convincing enough to go with the illusion, but clunky enough to be noticable and funny. From their first time together to the final life-threatening routine, you'll actually be compelled by all the triple axle action - certainly their first sequence as a duo set to Aerosmith you can't help but crack a huge smile over as it's both hilarious and uplifting.
Ultimately 'Blades' is well-made comfort food. It's not original, clever or funny enough to be considered up there with some of the greats, but it's far from a waste of effort either - certainly stronger overall than their last film each (Talladega Nights, School for Scoundrels) and much funnier than most things in theatres right now calling themselves comedies. It's solid formula that is guaranteed to tickle most everyone's funny bone several times (I counted a dozen good laughs myself), even if the simple but great concept doesn't quite live up to its fullest potential.