Kevin James as Scott Voss
Salma Hayek as Bellas Flores
Henry Winkler as Marty
Charice as Malia de La Cruz
Bas Rutten as Niko
Gary Valentine as Eric Voss
Greg Germann as Principal Becher
Melissa Peterman as Lauren Voss
Mookie Barker as Assistant Principal Elkins
Joe Rogan as Himself
Mike Goldberg as Himself
Mark DellaGrotte as Himself
Scott Voss (Kevin James) used to be a great teacher; ten some odd years ago he was voted Teacher of the Year for his work as a high school biology teacher. He also used to be a good wrestler; twenty some odd years ago he was a collegiate champ. Time and lethargy have robbed him of his desire and motivation for either, but when budget cut backs loom over his high school, he gets the idea to put those two great tastes that taste great together, which should produce either the recipe for a Reese’s Cup or the recipe for saving the school’s music program. Lucky for us and our plot, it’s the second one.
This year’s Kevin James vehicle from Happy Madison isn’t too different from past versions, but it does its good business well and there isn’t as much of the bad as in some past efforts (I’m looking at you “Zookeeper”). Even though the built in physical comedy is obvious–it’s still not the most believable set-up for a film–I had difficulty with it when it was played straight in “Warrior” and even more so here – but none of that is the point. The point is to let James put his natural likeability on display while he punishes himself, either physically or emotionally, or both. It’s a combination that’s been working for film comics for 20 years now, ever since the Adam Sandler generation of SNL vets moved to the big screen, so much so that few comedies try anything different.
That said James’ style makes a stark contrast to his Madison cohort, ignoring the comedy of annoyance to focus on comedy of humanity, jokes we can laugh at because we’re reflected in them however extreme. James (who also co-wrote) is also getting to be a much better storyteller, able to balance the needs of comedy with the needs of heart, giving both just the right workout.
Which doesn’t stop him from making a lot of the same jokes over and over. James’ Voss is a slacker, natch, a man who tries hard not to try hard, hoping to fast-talk his way past his overbearing boss (Greg Germann) and into a date with the hot school nurse (Salma Hayek). But he does it well, balancing humor with just the right amount of earnestness and only occasionally going too far one way or another.
Honestly, it’s amazing that using so many of the same collaborators James manages everything Sandler can’t. “Boom” is no masterpiece but compared with “Click” or its ilk it’s amazing so many of the same people are responsible for both. Maybe it really is the singer and not the song, and “Boom” is actually well served there.
James continues his work as a likeable schlub. It’s the only thing he does, but he does it well; though he is frequently upstaged by his beleaguered brother (Gary Valentine) in the few views we get of his family life. He and Hayek ignore a lot of the meet-cute aspects of a rom-com giving their moments some actual weight and validity that keeps them from feeling like perfunctory add on.
Even better, the actual fighters given large roles–particularly Bas Rutten as a former fighter trading fight training for citizenship lessons–are up to the task, providing humor and character and never feeling stiff.
The only person who really feels out of place is music teacher Henry Winkler, the man Scott only knows slightly but who is preparing to get beaten to a bloody pulp to help. He’s not funny, his story isn’t funny and is only vaguely interesting, and his inspirational moments could be handled by someone else.
There are a few other missteps. The pacing and focus are scattershot as the film darts back and forth between Voss’ attempts to prepare for his fights, his attempts to become a better teacher, to woo Nurse Flores, to help a top student’s (Charice) family. There’s a lot going on for a fairly light film, not so much it overwhelms but enough that it’s not always sure where to place focus on a film that’s ultimately about an unlikely MMA fighter competing for a deeply personal purpose. And is totally not a rip-off of “Warrior.”
It will help a lot if you like Kevin James, because you’re going to be spending the entire film with him, but he’s a likeable guy and “Here Comes the Boom” puts its best assets to work and only occasionally falls victim to its worst instincts. You probably won’t cry, but you will laugh, and that will do.