Fact is, it’s hard to make a PG comedy that has appeal for adults. Oh sure, animation has tackled this burden capably as of late, but for live-action films the standard has become PG-13 (Dodgeball) or outright R (There’s Something about Mary, American Pie). And yet Will Ferrell has two of the elusive PG comedies on his acting resume, Elf and now Kicking and Screaming. When you consider Anchorman and Old School you’ve got to wonder; when will Ferrell make a bad movie? No, I have not seen Melinda & Melinda.
The secret to Kicking and Screaming is simple, Will Ferrell could be funny at a funeral. He has what Eddie Murphy had in the 80s, Jim Carrey in the 90s. IT. You know, the mysterious vibe that comedians give off when they are at the top of their game? The silly and lanky Ferrell has it. And that’s a good thing. It makes Kicking and Screaming a decent flick which it might not have been in mere mortal hands. The concept for the film was born out of a conversation between Ferrell and his manager, Jimmy Miller. The two decided that Ferrell’s work on Saturday Night Live when he yelled at kids really worked, and they were right. Ferrell screaming at little people is just good times.
The movie starts out with an introduction to Phil (Ferrell) and Buck Weston (Robert Duvall). It turns out Buck is one of those psychotic fathers you see down at the park, ultra competitive and hard on their kiddies. Buck coaches a soccer team with his own son (the product of a recent trophy wife) and his grandson Sam. Sam rides the pine before Grandpa Buck trades him. Trades him! The poor little fella gets chucked off the team because he’s not a “winner.” This upsets Phil, but as the polar opposite to Duvall’s “frothing at the mouth” father, Phil can only cry in his tiny pillow, which sets the stage for Phil to take over Sam’s new team, leading a tiny ragtag group of misfits to greater glory. Like you didn’t see that coming?
So, no, the story isn’t going to change your life. And it definitely drags in certain portions involving ringer Italian soccer kids. But watching Ferrell bubble underneath the surface towards greater madness is a study in comic timing. Everyone is in on the joke; everyone can sense Phil is going to blow. The only real issue is Ferrell is not allowed to go nuts early or often enough. It is after all a fun family film. So while Mom and Dad wait for the real comedy to start the kids will be kept amused by Ferrell’s meek Phil Weston being the brunt of jokes.
The cast of Kicking and Screaming doesn’t do a ton of heavy lifting, but Duvall is solid (of course). Another highlight is Mike Ditka as, well, Mike Ditka, a neighbor who helps Phil try and beat his father Buck. He plays himself well and you find yourself wondering whether he’ll find work as Mike Ditka in other films. The other highlight is Elliot Cho as Byong Sun, the tiniest tyke of them all. You’ll get some belly laughs when Ferrell starts tossing this kid around.
So all you family film lovers, soccer moms included, rustle up the kids into the mini-van and head on down the public streets at 90 miles an hour. Hopefully you’ll get there just in time to check out Kicking & Screaming.