Adam Sandler's production company, Happy Madison, makes a habit of infuriating movie critics with its films. They produce movies that are either simple and schmaltzy or juvenile and gross. Or both together. In a world where film critics gravitate to the dark and ironic, these movies are dismissed as escapist stupidity.
And I'm sure that's what most critics will say about their latest film Here Comes the Boom staring Kevin James. This movie has no subtlety in the script nor does it boast stellar performances, huge laughs, or artistic directing. But that does not mean that it is a bad move. Far from it. I actually enjoyed the heck of this film.
The plot revolves around Scott Voss (James) who is a high school biology teacher. After starting off his career with energetic idealism, he has been crushed by a system of mediocrity, where he simply sits and class reading his paper, waiting for his paycheck. This changes when the school announces because of budget cuts that the music program will be defunded. This means that his colleague Marty (played by a very un-Fonzie Henry Winkler), will lose his job. For reasons that have been established earlier, Scott feels compelled to raise money to save the program. While tutoring someone to pass their citizenship test (Bas Rutten), he watches a mixed-martial arts fight and finds out that UFC fighters makes at least $10 grand a fight, even if they lose.
Scott then goes on a series of comic episodes working his way up the fighting circuit to earn the money he needs. Like all good sports movies, and this is at heart a sports movie, Scott is the scrappy underdog who will not give up no matter how humiliated and injured he becomes. And those injures serve to bring him closer to the school nurse (played by Salma Hayek) as Marty's increasing passion and selflessness brings romance to the two of them.
Along the way he interacts with lots of quirky characters like his trainer Nico (Rutten), a gentle giant who is happy that life is “twisting” (i.e. cool). Then there's Malia (played by Filipino singer Charice) a smart and sweet girl who needs a teacher to help her. I could go on, but you get the idea. As he finds his outer strength, he begins to find his inner strength and brings his enthusiasm back to the classroom. In class he gives lecture (while gyrating on his desk) on how dynamic cells can bring a whole oranism back to life. This is a metaphor for the classroom and, as a teacher myself, I couldn't agree more. As I wrote in my Philosophy of Teaching, enthusiasm is contagious and students learn better when they feel excited.
The film routinely relies on silly situations to move the story forward. I can't say that there were a lot of laughs (although after Scott's first win, I couldn't stop laughing for a few minutes). But I found myself smiling throughout the entire film. The movie may not be the funniest, but it is enjoyable. The script doesn't give the actors a lot to work with, although James has lots of hidden charisma. He is completely believable as the layabout teacher, the inspiring teacher, the worthless fighter, and the worth fighter. That is no small feat. I would love to see James tackle some more dramatic roles that push his range because I think that he definitely has it in him.
As a Catholic I was also pleased with the subtle nods to faith in the movie. Religion doesn't really come up, but one trainer quotes Genesis 32 where Jacob wrestles God. Right before the final match, Scott and his team join hands in prayer and walk in to an exciting rendition of the Neil Diamond song “Holy Holy.”
As I said before, this is a sports movie. The most important quality of a sports movie is that it makes you feel like you are at a sporting event. Major League is my favorite movie about sports because I am riveted during that last game. The most salient crowd feature at a game is the cheer. The audience gives its full-throated commitment to the outcome of the contest. In Scott's last match in the movie, the stakes are raised. He is not prepared for this, but he goes forward anyway. I was desperate for him to win. That is impressive for a movie that for the most part was coasting at a “B-” grade.
They tell you that in good writing you don't explicitly say the theme. Here Comes the Boom throws that out the window. Marty tells a weary Scott that “teaching is inspiring.” Director Frank Coraci (who gave us the great The Wedding Singer and the under-appreciated Capra-esque Click) then shows us shot after shot of the quirky cast of characters Scott has encountered in his journey. And they all seem inspired. It is a cheesy film technique designed to tug at our hearts.
And it works. Somehow, Coraci makes this silly story work on an emotional level. I couldn't help but be a little inspired.
And I think you might be too.
3 ½ out of 5 stars
Here Comes the Boom opens October 12th
Here Comes the Boom opens October 12th