Stop me if you’ve heard this one: Misfit/outcast beats the odds to evolve into an unlikely hero who wins the girl and saves the day. From “The Karate Kid” to “Rocky” to “Rudy” to “Warrior,” it’s become the biggest cliché in sports movies, and one Kevin James dutifully sticks to in the utterly predictable “Here Comes the Boom.”
Yet his journey to redemption is far more involving than it should be. And that’s due almost exclusively to James’ innate likability. As Scott Voss, a pudgy, 41-year-old biology teacher who moonlights as a mixed-martial-arts fighter to raise money to save the music program at rundown Wilkinson High, James is more in step with his scene-stealing antics from the sweet, romantic comedy “Hitch” than the talking-animal catastrophe “Zookeeper.”
Pulling double-duty as co-writer (with “The Dilemma” scribe Allan Loeb), James locates a balance between bumbling fool and broad physical comedy in wringing substance from a cookie-cutter role. Ditto for Henry “The Fonz” Winkler, stealing every scene he’s in as a well-intentioned music teacher blessed with puppy-dog eyes. The rest of the cast is pretty much one-note. Gorgeous Salma Hayak is the nurse targeted for Scott’s relentless and playful advances; Greg Germann, plays a principal as tactless as his character on Showtime’s “House of Lies”; and mixed martial artist Bas Rutten (a veteran of James’ twin duds, “Mall Cop” and “Zookeeper”) drops in as Niko, Scott’s trainer and a student in the citizenship class he teaches to help earn some of the $48,000 needed to save the threatened music program.
When Scott, a former collegiate wrestler, learns he can make 10 grand a fight for just stepping into an MMA ring, he enlists Niko’s help as a trainer in exchange for private tutoring.
Scott’s fights start small, and then, one arm bar and a foot lock at a time, he gets incrementally better, landing in a big UFC showdown with Ken “The Executioner” Dietrich. Faster than you can say Ivan Drago, Scott’s journey from undedicated teacher to unlikely hero inspires the students and jolts complacent faculty into being better educators. Sure, there’s some editorializing on public education, but such subplots are cleaned up as fast as they are introduced by director Frank Coraci (“Click,” “The Wedding Singer”). And since “Boom” is from Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison Production company, you can bet your barf bits and butt cracks that there are plenty of scatological sight gags.
The whole premise – James actually making it to the UFC, James suffering through some of the most brutal MMA moves, James having a chance with Hayak – is preposterous. Those, coupled with a predictable late-round twist, had me ready to take a dive. But, in the end, James inspired me – and the cheering audience I saw the film with – to go the distance.
Page 2 of 2 - Dana Barbuto may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
HERE COMES THE BOOM
(PG for bouts of MMA sports violence, some rude humor and language). Cast includes Kevin James, Henry Winkler, Salma Hayak. 2 stars out of 4.