Kevin James is one of those performers who consistently appears in films that should crash and burn. 2011’s Zookeeper should have been rotten, but his joviality kept it pretty entertaining. And he was likable in the funny Paul Blart: Mall Cop, an otherwise systematic picture. In 2012’s Here Comes the Boom, Adam Sandler’s Chris Farley substitute has run out of luck.
It’s not so much that the shtick is tired or that there’s no room for his brand of comedy. Rather, this Frank Coraci-helmed sports-com is offensively mawkish and misguided from the outset. It boils over with banal American values paste, finger-painting a storybook hallucination of God, family, country, and non-nationals that requires more suspension of belief than a film about talking animals.
James is Scott Voss, a teacher trying to make ends meet. He has lost his zeal for the job, supposedly because of the bureaucracy that treats students like sheep, and drums up some extra dough by teaching immigrants how to pass the citizenship exam. One of Voss’ friends, the music teacher Marty (Henry Winkler), is in danger of losing his job. Oh, and Marty’s wife (Nikki Tyler-Flynn) is almost 50 and preggers because Here Comes the Boom didn’t have enough on the line.
Voss wants to do something about the situation and he gets the marvellous idea to participate in MMA fights after a student in his citizenship class (Bas Rutten) introduces him to the sport. With a little training and a lot of motivational music from that one time when rap-rock was cool, Voss works his way up the ladder and eventually garners the interest of the UFC. This sets up the mandatory big fight/conflict resolution.
Part of the conceit of Here Comes the Boom is in seeing a plump, unqualified fella get smacked around. This isn’t as fun as it sounds. It’s less fun because Voss seems to only require some Band-Aids and a little speedy therapy from the school nurse/love interest (Salma Hayek) in order to lick his wounds. Wow, fighting against highly-trained professionals must be easy!
James has struck it pretty luck when it comes to landing the ladies in his comedies. Hayek is no exception, but Here Comes the Boom finds James’ character a few shades away from harassment. He has asked the nurse out what seems like dozens of times and is always rejected. His approach isn’t the cute detached infatuation of Blart but rather the ungainly tenacity of someone you really, really don’t want to ask you to dance at your neighbour’s party.
These problems are all well in play by the time Here Comes the Boom, apparently named after the Saliva song we have to keep listening to, actually stakes out its corner. When it gets its grubby fingers in place for the chokehold, the audience has already been subjected to a veritable what’s-what of conservative clichés and sports movie tropes set to excruciating levels of syrupy capacity.
Consider the treatment of Voss’ class of immigrants. They are, to a person, somewhat endearing (because they’re taking the right path to citizenship) but generally oblivious. They sit dumbly in front of a big fight on television, for instance, and one of them can’t understand that the departure of a teacher doesn’t mean he’s passed the test he hasn’t taken yet.
There’s also the gratuitous plot involving one of Voss’ students (Charice), a Filipino girl caught between following her musical dreams and working in her father’s restaurant. This “overbearing” daddy is met with the keen initiative of the suddenly rehabilitated Voss and abruptly changes his tune in time to tie up another arbitrary loose end.
That doesn’t touch the film’s tendency to blame educational failures on those damn administrators or the bizarre science lesson about the slothful cell who thought other cells would “pick up the slack” and wound up costing the whole organism’s death. These duplicitous inclinations, along with an oddly-placed quotation from Genesis, a little Christian rap-rock and a tacked-on embezzlement scenario, seem an ironically perfect fit for a flick about a portly guy getting hit repeatedly to no ill effect.