Mar 5, 2008 at 12:00 am

Will Ferrell's got a serious case of jock itch. This is his third goofy sports spoof in a bit more than two years — and it's four films if you go back to 2005. By now, the results are starting to smell as fresh as Charles Barkley's soiled gym socks. Yes, yes, this approach rakes in the cash and has made Ferrell arguably the most bankable comedy star, but sooner or later audiences are going to figure out he's only got but one or two moves in his playbook.

As he did in hits Talladega Nights and Blades of Glory, Ferrell commits every inch of his giant, flabby frame to playing an overgrown man-child consumed with near-terminal self-absorption. That egoism isn't entirely out of place in the movie's Me Decade setting of bearskin rugs and polyester pantsuits, borrowing a bit of Anchorman's mojo by adding a disco beat. This time, Ferrell is Jackie Moon, the player-coach and owner of the struggling Flint Tropics ABA team, which is destined to fold at the end of the season unless they complete a miraculous turnaround and merge with the NBA. To reach the promised land, this bottom-scraping team of castoffs has to finish in at least fourth place and sell some tickets — and it'll take more than a glimpse of thigh from Jackie's super-tight booty shorts to fill the seats.

The Moon man's master strategy for survival includes wacky promotions like wrestling a bear, and bringing in Ed Monix, a beat-down former star player with a good jump shot, played by Woody Harrelson in virtual revision of his sad-sack role in Kingpin. He's all too eager to give dingy old Flint a shot, since his former flame Lynn (Maura Tierney) just happens to live there. Meanwhile, there's another superfluous subplot involving André Benjamin as a Dr. J-styled stud Clarence "Coffee" Black, who's grappling with loyalty and a chance at the big time. Producer turned director Kent Alterman obviously has little need for such sidelines, since he keeps turning the camera back on Ferrell to let him scream, pout and wiggle around like a colicky toddler in need of naptime. When that approach fails to get laughs, the next resort is to start throwing out f-bombs like a middle-schooler who's just learned to curse, ruining the film's shot at the lucrative PG-13 crowd.

There are giggles to be had here, but they're mostly layups instead of rim-rattling dunks.

Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].