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"Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got a class to teach, then I gotta roll around with a sweaty guy from Holland."
on October 13, 2012
Kevin James fills that niche. The one that his pal Adam Sandler surrendered years ago when he opted for those loopy roles. Kevin James remains very much down-to-earth and relatable. He's that likable everyman. HERE COMES THE BOOM is all kinds of predictable. It strives to mash-up two of cinema's most enduring narratives: the plight of teachers under duress and the inspirational underdog sports story. I was ready to roll my eyes a lot at this film. I walked out of the theater grinning. HERE COMES THE BOOM follows convention, does it ever. There's no earthshaking plot twist. But the film's expert execution of those tropes and Kevin James' warm, committed performance won me over. And there are enough laughs. And I'm a devoted enough sports fan. And I'll always root for endeavors that promote educators and expose the disadvantages that hinder them from doing their job. That Salma Hayek is in the movie doesn't suck, either. Her character's name is Bella, and I'd be hard pressed to think of something else more appropriate to call her.
Once upon a time, 42-year-old high school biology teacher Scott Voss (James) won the Teacher of the Year honors. But that was a decade ago, and he's since lost his spark. Today Scott Voss is an indifferent cog in Boston's educational system. But when budget cutbacks threaten to eliminate the school's extracurricular activities - including his friend Marty's (Henry Winkler) music department - Scott Voss is galvanized impetuously into action. Except how do you now raise $48,000, especially in the face of a looming deadline?
Once upon a time, Scott Voss was a Division One collegiate wrestler, a pretty good one, never mind that that was two decades ago. Scott arrives at the deranged idea of competing in the mixed martial arts circuit to drum up money for his school. You'd think the fact that he doesn't know much about the MMA sport would give him pause... Anyway, early on, anticipate scenes of Scott's getting harshly beat down.
By the way, I like that his ring walks are serenaded by a Neil Diamond track. Makes me smile.
Oh, most critics will hate this film. They won't take into the equation that there's a sweetness to this story, that there's heart and warm sentiment nestled in that gauntlet of cliches. Thankfully, the story isn't too sanitized. There's some bite to it. There's even a moment in which a debate surfaces regarding the validity and morality of resorting to violence, even if it's only in a sporting venue, in order to resolve a school's financial dilemma. I'm not sure that the film adequately addresses that. But let's not get too mired in deep moralizing. This movie isn't trying to change the world. It's trying to entertain you. There's a time and place and a mood for these kinds of films. There's a time for navel-gazing, and a time for popcorn and twizzlers.
To my surprise, Kevin James and Salma Hayak manage to ignite a few sparks. I'm not saying they replicate that heat between Richard Gere and Debra Winger, but, after a while, I bought into James' character actually having a shot with Hayak's school nurse, never mind that she'd already rejected him the fifteen times he'd asked her out. But there's a nice, easy rapport in their interactions. Note that, this time, Hayak's sexy nurse isn't singing back-up or possessed by a malevolent creature from outer space.
I suppose the presence of MMA fighters and personalities lends credibility. Fight commentators Joe Rogan and Mike Goldberg play themselves. MMA fighter Krzysztof Soszynski (not playing himself) squares up with Scott in the Octagon. But Bas Rutten turns in one of the best performances, playing Nico, an outlandish, scene-stealing former MMA fighter who trains Scott in exchange for getting tutored as he bones up for his coming U.S. citizenship exam.
I don't know if, like I heard in a Bas Rutten interview, Kevin James had trained for 14 months going into this film, but I'm happy to say that he doesn't embarass himself. Kevin has got that unsvelte, bearish figure, but he did get into a decent enough shape, considering. And it's not like his character is playing this elite gladiator, anyway. Scott Voss's clumsy, amateurish style is based on his playing defense and getting lucky with a strike. His chances of winning rely more on his perseverence thru sheer gumption and an ability to absorb punches and a stone-cold reluctance to disappoint his students. It makes you root for him all the more. So set aside the artsy-fartsy mindset, assemble the homies, and check out this feel-good show. In the face of impending ridicule, I'm rating HERE COMES THE BOOM 4 out of 5 stars. I really enjoyed it.