Remember when The King of Queens was in its prime and Kevin James was one of the entertainment industry’s most reliable comedic actors? Unfortunately, when it comes to his movie career, the fact that James was the star of The King of Queens seems to be the only excuse I can come up with to forgive such cinematic excretions like Zookeeper, Grown Ups, Paul Blart, and I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry. When the trailer came out for James’ latest, a mixed martial arts family film entitled Here Comes the Boom, it pretty much looked like the same old, same old: a Happy Madison production in which Kevin James gets himself into crazy and immaturely hilarious (for kids) situations. While Boom certainly adheres to all of these preconceptions, it also surprisingly finds a way to take a couple of big tugs on the heartstrings and, while it’s in no way one of the year’s most memorable, it’s easily the best movie Kevin James has been a part of since Hitch.
Officially sanctioned by the UFC, Here Comes the Boom stars James as Scott Voss, a former college wrestler and respected educator, who, at 42-years-old, has become a bored biology teacher at the failing Wilkinson High School. When a string of budget cuts look like they might force the music program and its beloved teacher, Marty (Henry Winkler), to be disbanded, Scott devises a plan to raise the $48,00 needed to maintain the music department by becoming an MMA fighter.
While the plot might not seem great on paper (I certainly thought it would be a lot worse), what makes this story so compelling is how much heart it actually has. The central message about never giving up on what you truly believe in has been done to death and certainly could have been cliché if not executed properly, but the fact that the plot made light of this through something like MMA, which, let’s face it, is sort of daring and pretty different from most PG rated films about “reaching your goals”, gives the film just the right amount of adult presence to keep it from being just another generic kids movie. After following this teacher though his entire, slapstick-filled journey, if you’re not at least smiling by the final showdown you either dosed off and missed most of the movie or you just don’t have a heart plain and simple. Although not all of the jokes land perfectly, the writing is slick enough to keep you laughing throughout, and I can’t say I was ever checking my watch hoping the minutes would move by like seconds – while that may not be the best of compliments, it sure is solid for a Kevin James flick, no?
What further separates Here Comes the Boom from some of Kevin James’ other disaster films are the performances. Even though not all of the actors portray their characters perfectly (for some reason Salma Hayek is getting herself trapped down within these Happy Madison productions), Kevin James and Henry Winkler, who play the film’s most crucial characters, both do great jobs presenting Scott and Marty as likable individuals. Although it took me a little while to buy the fact that Kevin James’ character would actually do something as ridiculous as fight MMA to save a music program, he does a fantastic job at showing how much Voss actually cares about this music teacher (as both an educator and a friend) as well as these students. Henry Winkler, as always, is goofily charming from the first time he shows up on screen and his interpretation of a music teacher with a heart of gold really helps you get emotionally invested in the story as a whole. By the end of their journey together, you truly believe that these two care about one other and have developed a fantastic, lifelong friendship. These types of performances, in which the audience actually senses a connection between the main characters, is something that is just missing from James’ other films and definitely moved this one up a few notches. Granted, this isn’t the best movie friendship to ever hit the screen, but it’s certainly not the worse either.
While the story is as predictable as all the other sports movies that have come out in the past decade, Here Comes the Boom does a great job presenting itself with a lot of heart and with a message that doesn’t seem cliché in context. Between this and the likeable chemistry between James and Winkler, Boom is a film you end up mindlessly rooting for and kids will certainly love it. While it’s not The Master by any means, it’s certainly not Zookeeper, Grown Ups, Paul Blart, or I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry either, and for me that’s more than enough.
Review by Nicholas Franco