Tonight, HBO will be premiering Will Ferrell’s documentary-of-sorts, Ferrell Takes the Field. In it, Will Ferrell plays all 9 positions (and designated hitter) for 10 different baseball teams in one day. Granted, it’s during spring training, when the games don’t count, but Ferrell isn’t doing this to enter the record books. He’s doing it for charity, and the day’s events raised $1 million for the Cancer to College charity, which gives scholarships to cancer survivors who attend college.
For that, it’s easy to forgive Ferrell Takes the Field for not being Anchorman 3 or Old School 2. It’s not an outrageously funny documentary, or even a substantive one. It’s a quick 50-minute piece of entertainment that breezes by with a few mild chuckles and the occasional uproarious moment. That’s as much as one might could expect from a gimmick that’s funnier on paper than it is in execution.
Ferrell Takes the Field sees Will Ferrell wake up at 5:30 a.m. and spend the day traveling to five spring training games out in Arizona. In each game, he plays a position for one team before being “traded” or “released” and switches to the other team, where he plays another position. The actual baseball is minimal: Ferrell does manage to get involved in a couple of ground-ball plays (which he executes nicely), he pitches, he plays catcher (for one batter, who is intentionally walked) and even gets to bat (he makes contact on a foul tip before striking out). All in all, it’s not bad for a 47-year-old with no professional baseball experience.
The comedy usually comes in between innings, as when he’s traded by Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane (of Moneyball fame) and proceeds to call Beane a “bloodsucking liar” and a few other choice insults. There’s another amusing sequence where he flies a helicopter to one of the games, and perhaps best of all is the speech he gives to the crowd at the end of the day after retiring from baseball.
It’s typical Ferrell stuff, a project that only he could pull off: Fake braggadocio played completely straight that works because we already know the jokes before he delivers them. There’s something reassuring about having those expectations confirmed (also, Ferrell has some heart, whereas a guy like Danny McBride — who schtick is Ferrellx10 — can get more laughs but gain less sympathy). At under an hour, it also manages to come to the brink of wearing out its welcome, but never quite crosses the line. For a documentary made for cancer survivors, it’s more than enough to be adequately amusing.