In Blades of Glory, Jon Heder, he of the adorable rabbit teeth and gently peeved nasal whine, may have ditched his Napoleon Dynamite curls, but he still knows how to take a cue from his hair — in this case, a frosted ’70s princess mop that makes him look like Sandy Duncan with a touch of Marcia Wallace on the old Bob Newhart Show. As Jimmy MacElroy, a figure skater known for his seamless twirls and glides, Heder is introduced in a skintight peacock getup of resplendent silliness, bedecked with giant sequins and a big, flaming tail. When he flaps his ”wings” to the soaring strains of ”Con Te Partirò” it may be wrong to say so, but I’ll say it anyway: He looks about as gay as a jaybird in May.
Will Ferrell, with those dots of eyes furrowed into mean slits, is Chazz Michael Michaels, Jimmy’s butch counterpart — a pudgy, cantankerous ruffian who skates with cowboy/bruiser/Saturday Night Fever moves that are, if anything, just a bit less ridiculous than Jimmy’s peacock posing. Chazz tends his dirty biker hair with horse shampoo and tosses horny insults at anyone who doesn’t see his macho splendor. He’s also a sex addict who, when he spots Nancy Kerrigan, hits her with the line ”You an official here? Because you have officially given me a boner!” That sums up Ferrell’s performance: As Chazz, he’s a tool, though that doesn’t mean he’s anything less than a girly man on ice.
At the World Wintersport Games, Chazz and Jimmy share the gold medal, and when their appearance on the podium turns into a brawl, both are banned from solo competitive skating for life. But there’s a loophole: They can still compete in teams, and since no one wants to partner with either of the disgraced duo, they put their mutual hatred on hold to become the first male-male figure-skating team in the history of the sport.
Giggling at the pouffy-sleeved, muscle-buffed vanity of male figure skaters may be a bit of a cheap shot, but as cheap shots go, it isn’t a bad one. Blades of Glory is a farce of preening emasculation in spandex. It is also, undeniably, a mild comedy of homosexual panic, though in a place as sexually clenched as America, no one, from either the left or the right, has much to fear from a good, honest gay-anxiety joke. Remember the one that popped up in the middle of the Super Bowl — that commercial with two men nibbling away at different ends of a candy bar, only to end up in a kiss? It tickled you in two directions at once, turning homophobia into a sly what if? There are moments in Blades of Glory with a similar effect. Basically, though, this is a one-joke movie, directed by Will Speck and Josh Gordon with zero visual sparkle and too much dead weight between its handful of nimble sequences.
When Chazz and Jimmy hit the ice together, it’s the payoff we’ve been waiting for, and the movie doesn’t disappoint. Ferrell and Heder, who did some of their own skating, are digitally blended with stunt doubles, which gives them the look of an Olympiad Siegfried & Roy. Chazz, to his horror, finds his face opposite body parts he never wanted to be half that close to, and the duet’s poses are ripe indeed, especially when Jimmy takes on the figure of a swan getting lovingly…goosed. The movie is funniest when it aims for doofy-surreal balletic farce — when it revels in lyrical slapstick and turns into a comedy of movement, of men gone femme.
Off the ice, though, Blades of Glory is cautious and rather flat. I kept wishing that the film had been directed by Christopher Guest, the Farrelly brothers, or the Ben Stiller of Zoolander, who did zingier, nut-brained riffs on the vacuousness of fashion-world metrosexuality. (Stiller is one of the producers here.) It’s time for Will Ferrell to stop letting his belly hang out — or, at least, to stop thinking that doing so is enough to qualify for a ”fearless” laugh. His macho send-up made sense in Talladega Nights, but he plays Chazz as such a toxic bullhead (would someone like this become a figure skater?) that he seems to be overcompensating for the effeminacy of the subject. As for Heder, he finds few shadings within his honeyed passivity.
Blades of Glory has its diversions, like Amy Poehler and Will Arnett as the brother-sister team of Fairchild and Stranz Van Waldenberg, who are such arrested babies they don’t even realize they’re in lust with each other. Arnett, especially, gives his evil skating dandy a touch of antic depravity, and there’s a good bit where he and Ferrell hobble through a lobby on skates in a riotously clunky chase. Blades of Glory has funny moves even when its characters can barely move, but the film seldom gets past its one basic laugh: that a real man figure-skating is a contradiction in terms.