Kevin James Displays Heart in ‘Here Comes the Boom’

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CHICAGO – Seeing the words “Happy Madison Production” on any film means a broad, unfunny and formulaic comedy is about to emerge – usually with company founder Adam Sandler. Although “Here Comes the Boom” has some of those dulling elements, it’s Kevin James who is sincere and motivated as a cage match fighter.

The set-up to the premise – James is a teacher at a school that is cutting it’s music program and popular music teacher, so naturally James fights in mixed martial arts cage matches to earn money to save the day – is straight out of the Happy Madison playbook. What separates it from Sandler-land is the everyman charm of Kevin James, and the odd collection of characters that help his achieve his Ultimate Fighting Championship dream. With shades of “Rocky” and a unique approach to filming the fight sequences, “Here Comes the Boom” is not bad.

Scott Voss (James) was once a teacher-of-the-year candidate at his high school, but is currently severely burned out. He finds solace by flirting with the school nurse Bella (Salma Hayek) and listening to the music class of Marty Streb (Henry Winkler). When the school principal announces massive budget cuts, the music department is the victim. The school needs 50 grand to keep the program viable, and it is Scott that comes up with the money-raising plan.

Kevin James, Henry Winkler
Ayyy!: Scott (Kevin James) Gives Marty (Henry Winkler) a Lift in ‘Here Comes the Boom’
Photo credit: Sony Pictures

He was a ex-college wrestler at a division one school, so naturally he thinks he can adapt to the popular mixed martial arts (MMA) cage matches. He recruits a motley crew that includes an ex-MMA fighter named Niko (Bas Rutten), the music teacher Marty and a punch expert (Mark DellaGrotte playing himself). Starting with the lower end matches of that style of fighting, the 42 year old biology teacher reaches the top in a Ultimate Fighting Championship match in Las Vegas. That’s quite an evolution in saving-the-day.

The film has a sweetness, combined with the requisite gross-out jokes (because someone is always eating applesauce left in a hot car) that is tradition in the Happy Madison world. It also takes a little too much time to get into gear, which means too much riffing by Kevin James and lead pipe “jokes.” But once the fighting starts, the movie shifts into a broad surrealism, and a slimmed-down James displays a sincerity that is surprising in context. He truly takes the Rocky-like elements to heart and damn if it doesn’t work.

Getting the right cast was key, and there are several examples that on paper looks strange, but in action works better than expected. Salma Hayek would have a line-up of sick boys daily if she were an actual school nurse, but never panders to the flirting of James, and still looks sensational. Henry Winkler (AKA Fonzie from the 1970s “Happy Days”) finally gets to tell everyone he’s old (a shock) but works hard to actually develop the music teacher character. And the other members of the fighting crew, Bas Rutten and Mark DellaGrotte, are trying so genuinely to mesh into the scenario, that there is an awkward empathy for their characters.

It is also amazing that the “Rocky” formula can still work, despite it’s cliché, as long as it’s presented with a style and straightforwardness that pulls no punches. Credit goes to Happy Madison director Frank Corachi (“Waterboy,” “The Wedding Singer”) for showing some moxie in the presentation of the fight sequences. There are shots that are point-of-view, with odd angles and nice selection that really makes it work. It’s hard to believe sometimes that it is a Kevin James vehicle.

Salma Hayek
Yo, Frida!: Bella (Salma Hayek) Cheers in ‘Here Comes the Boom’
Photo credit: Sony Pictures

Happy Madison Productions should however, hire some serious script doctors. The set-up is so slow, and the projectile vomiting gag must be the go-to gross out of 2012, because it was also blithely used in “Pitch Perfect” a few weeks back, with the subsequent one billion hits on YouTube. America loves throw-up! If part of the production fortune of Adam Sandler was spent on some realistic dialogue and joke writers, perhaps he wouldn’t continue to be the critic’s favorite whipping boy.

When the “film critic” is cheering on Kevin James to save a school’s music department by fighting in a cage match, then maybe the critic’s brain has softened, or maybe the film knows how to deliver the premise. So soft…

“Here Comes the Boom” opened everywhere on October 12th. Featuring Kevin James, Salma Hayek, Henry Winkler, Bas Rutten, Mark DellaGrotte and Joe Rogan. Screenplay Rock Reuben, Allan Loeb and Kevin James. Directed by Frank Coraci. Rated “PG

HollywoodChicago.com senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

By PATRICK McDONALD
Senior Staff Writer
HollywoodChicago.com
pat@hollywoodchicago.com

© 2012 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

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