Kevin James has proven himself to be a big, amiable, even funny presence on TV’s “The King of Queens.” As for his headlining turns on the big screenâ€””I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry,” “Paul Blart: Mall Cop,” “The Dilemma,” and “Zookeeper”â€”he has yet to star in a vehicle that matches his talents or is much better than dumb, middle-of-the-road mediocrity. Here comes his latest, “Here Comes the Boom,” and it isn’t dumb so much as it is bland and unable to generate enough enthusiasm.
Recognized as “Teacher of the Year” ten years ago, Scott Voss (James) is now a slacker phoning in teaching biology at a rundown Boston high school. As announced by the principal (Greg Germann), the faculty members will experience budget cutbacks that threaten the school’s music program, as well as long-time music teacher Marty Streb’s (Henry Winkler) job. With music close to his heart (or something), Scott jumps the gun and stands up, determined to raise the $48,000 to save the program, but how? When he takes on teaching a night citizenship class to earn a little extra cash, one of his students Niko (real-life MMA fighter Bas Rutten), a former mixed-martial arts fighter from Holland, gives him the idea to fight in MMA himself, as one naturally would to take down the Man and make a difference. Scott used to wrestle in college, and all he has to do is lose and he’ll still win $10 grand. With the help of Niko and Marty, and the encouragement of his crush, school nurse Bella (Salma Hayek), he trains hard and hopes to bring the boom. Does he have his work cut out for him? Will Scott accept to fight at the Ultimate Fighting Championship in Las Vegas? And will the music program live on? Yes, yes, and yes!
Penned by Allan Loeb and James and directed by Frank Coraci (“Zookeeper”), “Here Comes the Boom” hits every pedestrian beat of the underdog sports formula. It’s not even the first one to resort to a food fight. Resembling more of a “Warrior”-lite than another dopey comedy from Adam Sandler’s production empire Happy Madison, it has modest goals to entertain and inspire, but doesn’t bear much fruit and is unsure on what audience it’s trying to please. Does the film even know what it wants to be? For a PG-rated movie about MMA fighting, it’s benign as can be (despite all the punches and the use of a song by metal band Godsmack), but for a comedy, energy is low and laughs are few and far between, as if it wasn’t even trying to be funny. Oddly enough, the film has such a cold, non-comic look to it, perhaps to accentuate the urban city of Boston, as well as the gritty MMA world, but it’s pretty drab.
As the leading Everyman, James is unobjectionable here and, relatively speaking, in top form, as he doesn’t have to do a lot of hamming this time. Also, he’s obviously been to the gym, losing some of his teddy-bear padding but none of his likability. Besides getting punched around a lot in the ring (which is at least contextual to the story), James only has to fall down once, gracelessly crawl through a window once, and puke on an opponent once. Most of the supporting characters form one of those only-in-the-movies communes, with Rutten adding some ruffian-like charm and smiley YouTube sensation-turned-performer Charice, whose voice is like an angel, appearing as one of Scott’s students. Winkler also has a sweet subplot about his wife expecting a baby, even if it gets dropped. Finally, Hayek is nice to see, but underused, as the school nurse Bella who keeps rejecting Scott’s advances, then nurses his post-fight injuries, and finally lets him cook dinner for her. Her romance with Scott is perfunctory at best, existing solely because the screenplay demands it.
Beyond its innate “go after your dream” predictability, the film is generally good-natured and inoffensive but just goes down with a whimper. It has a workable premise, being set during such rough economic times (James’ brother Gary Valentine even shows up as his brother who’s working hard through money issues), and the broad, hacky slapstick is wisely kept to a minimum. But by the pushy, “heartwarming” Big Fight, where (spoiler!) the school orchestra, principal, and Bella have apparently all flown out to Vegas to support Scott, you almost expect Rob Schneider to jump out of the crowd to say, “You can do it!” Neither good enough to root for nor bad enough to dislike, “Here Comes the Boom” is tepid fare that would be just fine on cable.
105 min., rated PG.