Judge Erich Asperschlager once bought some Blades of Glory. They never did cut tin cans like the ones on TV...
"I was on Quaaludes. I don't even remember Oslo. But I remember Boston…and that victory was as sweet as the cream pie for which the town was named."
If you're looking for a typical Will Ferrell comedy, Blades of Glory might not be for you. Ferrell's normally oversized personality is restrained in what is essentially a buddy picture, allowing co-star Jon Heder (and the strong supporting cast) to share the screen, and the laughs, with the biggest star of all: the glitzy—often ridiculous—world of competitive figure skating.
Facts of the Case
Blades of Glory tells the story of two rival figure skaters: "ice-devouring sex tornado" Chazz Michael Michaels (Will Ferrell, Stranger Than Fiction) and "skating's Little Orphan Awesome" Jimmy MacElroy (Jon Heder, Napoleon Dynamite). Out on the ice, Michaels is all swagger, while MacElroy is the model of poise and technique. When they tie for first place at the World WinterSport Games, their fisticuffs on the podium result in a stripping of gold medals and a lifetime ban for both skaters.
After three years out of the public eye, Jimmy's psycho-superfan, Hector (played by stand-up comic Nick Swardson), finds a loophole in the commission's ruling: Michaels and MacElroy can compete again, but only in the pairs division. Can two rivals overcome their hatred of each other and the prejudice of others to become the first male/male pairs team to compete in the WinterSport Games?
As funny as Will Ferrell is, his comedies are pretty hit-or-miss. Still, I have a lot of respect for the way he pushes boundaries: Even though I didn't like Anchorman as much as other people did, it had plenty of memorable scenes. In Blades of Glory, Ferrell's performance is more consistent, helping him better mesh with Jon Heder's subtle comic style so neither actor hogs the screen. The only downside in his pulling back is that, by taking fewer chances, there aren't as many memorable "crazy" Ferrell moments.
Though there aren't as many gut-busting laughs as I expected, Blades is in the "sports underdog" tradition, with a strong enough story to carry the movie in between jokes. There are plenty of laughs; they just come more from character interaction and the inherent absurdities of competitive figure skating's pomp and circumstance than from typical Will Ferrell gags.
Where Blades of Glory really shines is in its pitch-perfect casting: Will Ferrell and Jon Heder so inhabit the skaters they portray they might as well be the actors' long-lost figure-skating cousins—even Ferrell's "unusual" physique fits Chazz's attitude-over-technique skating style—and the special effects are seamless enough to make you believe it's really Ferrell and Heder out there, spinning, twirling, and…um…axel-ing all over the place (I was amazed to see, in the special features, how much skating everyone involved really did). Even though it's difficult accepting Ferrell as the embodiment of "sex on ice" (that's the joke, after all), it's not at all hard accepting the slight Heder as the delicate MacElroy. There's such an easy rapport between these seeming opposites I can only hope they're reunited for some future project. Helping these wildly different skaters come together as "one" on the ice is the character known only as "Coach," played to grizzled perfection (in the best example I've seen in years of pop-culture casting done right) by Craig T. Nelson (from, of course, Coach).
Rounding out the main cast is the movie's villainous brother/sister pairs team of Stranz and Fairchild Van Walderberg—real-life husband/wife duo Will Arnett (Arrested Development) and Amy Poehler (Undeclared). While Poehler is probably more familiar to the masses for her six years on Saturday Night Live and her many film appearances, Arnett has my undying comedic respect for his turn as Gob Bluth on Arrested Development. As the special feature devoted entirely to them riffing off each other in a fake interview proves, they're hilarious. That's why it's too bad they don't get better lines in the movie. Arnett and Poehler get most of their laughs on the ice (especially memorable is their blinged-out "hip hop" skating routine). Mostly, though, they strike evil poses (some sprawled across bearskin rugs) and torment their younger sister Katie (Jenna Fischer, The Office). I love Jenna Fischer in The Office. While it's nice to see her doing something else—in this case playing Heder's love interest—she never really gets a chance to break out, spending most of the movie under her siblings' diabolical thumbs.
No matter how good the actors are, Blades of Glory would have fallen flat if they'd gotten the figure skating wrong. Fortunately, they got it right. Oh, so right. It's astonishing no one's made a comedy about figure skating before. I can't think of another sport with as much built-in comedy.
Rightly, the filmmakers knew that the more authentic the experience, the funnier the result: Some of the movie's best lines come from the earnest play-by-play of cameo co-announcers Scott Hamilton and Jim Lampley, who obviously enjoy parodying themselves and their sport. Their commentary sounds weirdly authentic, even when Hamilton and Lampley are describing the "textbook perfection" of Heder's "galloping peacock" move, or praising Ferrell's performance by saying: "This cowboy is cracking his whip on the haunches of this crowd, and they love it!"
In this era of political correctness, it would be easy to take offense to this movie's central comedic premise: that seeing two guys in spandex embracing, twirling, and lifting each other is funny. However, for a film whose main joke relies on the "ickiness" of one man touching another, it certainly celebrates the journey Michaels and MacElroy take in overcoming their hatred and hang-ups—finally giving themselves over (in the grand-finale routine set to the theme song from Flash Gordon) to the intimacy of pairs skating. As a metaphor for becoming comfortable in your own skin, nothing quite beats spandex. Blades of Glory is, at heart, a buddy movie—a buddy movie where one buddy hoists the other buddy up in the air by the crotch. What can I say? That's figure skating.
I was pleasantly surprised by the quantity and quality of the extras on this disc. There's a fascinating feature showing the combination of special effects and training necessary for the actors to pull off their difficult skating routines. There's also a look at the "super-sexy" costume designs—favorites include MacElroy's spangly blue peacock outfit (complete with tail-feathers and hand puppet), Stranz's glittery tight-fitting J. Edgar Hoover-inspired suit, and the bedazzled denim hip-hop outfits the Van Waldenbergs wear (complete with gold teeth and stomach tattoos) while representin' to Marky Mark & the Funky Bunch's "Good Vibrations." Most of the features, though, are the actors goofing around in staged interviews and on the set. The Arnett-Poehler feature I mentioned earlier is pretty darn funny, though I'd love to know more about them: is answering at least one question seriously too much to ask? Of the features that deal directly with the making of the movie, the deleted scenes and alternate takes are the best. Any of the (fairly lengthy) deleted scenes could easily have been added back into the movie. One scene, revealing the childhood roots of Chazz's hatred of Jimmy, is so good I wonder why it was left out of the final cut. Are the extras a reason to buy this DVD? Maybe not, but if you were planning on buying the movie anyway, you'll have something to look forward to after the credits roll.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
While I had a lot of fun watching Blades of Glory, and definitely laughed enough to recommend it, there weren't really any big "that was so funny when…" scenes that stuck with me—probably because Blades of Glory plays it pretty safe (safer, perhaps, than necessary, given the wealth of comic talent onscreen).
It's also too bad that, for all the stunt casting that worked (Scott Hamilton and Craig T. Nelson, for example), some of the other cameos (like that of real-life figure skaters Sasha Cohen and Nancy Kerrigan) felt forced. It's probably not worth complaining about something so ubiquitous, but paying celebrities to appear in films for a few seconds, just so the audience can say "Hey! I know her," is too easy a gag, and it cheapens effective cameo performances.
While Blades of Glory may not be the best comedy you'll see this year, it does turn the sports movie formula on its flamboyantly dressed head. With a strong cast and great skating special effects, it's not hard to root for Chazz and Jimmy, or for this movie. Like the Winter Olympics, Blades is fun to watch, even if you happen to forget the results a few weeks later.
Blades of Glory is awarded the silver medal.
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Scales of Justice
• "Return to Glory: The Making of Blades"
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