Depending on how you look at it, figure skating is either an incredibly graceful sport that requires intense stamina or a very silly sport that relies on outlandish costumes and a campy sense of “showmanship.” Truth be told, it’s probably a little of both. Blades of Glory is not the first film ever made on the subject (Ice Castles and Ice Princess come immediately to mind), but it’s definitely the funniest because it recognizes – and embraces - the sport’s inherent contradictions.
Jon Heder plays Jimmy MacElroy, a golden-boy skating pro who has been groomed to win since childhood, when his billionaire adoptive father (William Fichtner) plucked him out of an orphanage. During a championship event, Jimmy ties with his archrival, a wild child skater named Chazz Michael Michaels (Will Ferrell). Chazz is a walking, talking id – a guy who channels his insatiable sexual energies into his performances. Neither of them takes kindly to the idea of sharing a gold medal, and a fight breaks out during the award ceremony. As a result, they are banned from their division for life.
Three-and-a-half years later, Jimmy discovers that a loophole in the rulebook bans him only from singles skating; he can still compete in pairs skating. The only potential partner he can find is, naturally, Chazz, who has been reduced to working in one of those cheesy Ice Capades-style kiddie shows. Both have a desire to return to competition, but their mutual contempt threatens to destroy their partnership. Their coach (Craig T. Nelson) forces them to work and train together to get to the World Championships.
There, they must compete against a creepy-bordering-on-incestuous brother/sister team, Fairchild and Stranz Van Waldenberg (played by real-life spouses Amy Poehler and Will Arnett). The skating siblings will do anything to win; when Jimmy falls for their good-hearted younger sister Katie (Jenna Fischer from “The Office”), they emotionally blackmail her into taking advantage of his affections.
What’s interesting about Blades of Glory is that it seemingly has its cake and eats it too. On one hand, the movie mines a lot of laughs from the conventions of competitive figure skating: the flamboyant costumes, the often-syrupy music selection, the incessant razzle-dazzle of it. On the other hand, it clearly has some respect for the sheer amount of effort and strength that goes into skating. Jimmy and Chazz (as well as Fairchild and Stranz) take the sport seriously. They want to excel, and they work hard to devise new moves that will impress the crowd. I think this is a smart approach for the film to take. Were it to just make fun of figure skating, Blades of Glory would have been the comedic equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel. By paying the athletes their due, the movie becomes more than a one-joke comedy.
There are some really big laughs here, some of which come from real skaters doing cameos. (Nancy Kerrigan proves especially game.) Other laughs come from the way the story spoofs figure skating routines. When Jimmy and Chazz perform moves that are typically performed by mixed couples, the results look a little homoerotic. Sometimes, I laughed just because a throwaway line of dialogue was unexpected; Chazz’s proclamation about the inventor of rope had me cracking up especially hard. Blades of Glory also contains what has to be the most hilariously bizarre chase scene in years. (I won’t blow it here, but it proves that certain things are really hard to do on ice skates.)
Sometimes it’s easy to complain when you see actors falling into familiar patterns, but other times that can be pleasing. This is one of those times. Jon Heder and Will Ferrell do what they’ve done in other movies before: Heder plays a lovable doofus and Ferrell plays a clueless egomaniac. Instead of Jimmy MacElroy and Chazz Michael Michaels, it could just as easily be Napoleon Dynamite and Ron Burgundy out on the ice. However, both actors somehow manage to make things seem just fresh enough to keep us from rolling our eyes. They commit completely to the over-the-top characters they play, which is what really sells it. The rest of the cast is also great. Poehler and Arnett bring a hysterical absurdity to their characters, and Jenna Fischer gives the sweet Katie an appropriate sense of adorableness.
To use baseball terms, Blades of Glory wasn’t really designed to be a home run. Could you make a great, scathing comedy about competitive figure skating? Of course. The whole Nancy Kerrigan/Tonya Harding rivalry proves the source material is there. This film instead wants to be a solid double, maybe a triple. It’s a star-studded broad comedy designed to make you forget your cares and have 93 minutes of good goofy fun. On that level, it succeeds as beautifully as a well-executed triple axle.
( out of four)
Blades of Glory is rated PG-13 for crude and sexual humor, language, a comic violent image, and some drug references. The running time is 1 hour and 33 minutes.
To learn more about this film, check out AskMen.com: Blades of Glory
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