It may be old-fashioned and out of date but I don’t mind the odd bit of physical comedy, be it by pioneers such as Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton or the Marx Brothers and The Three Stooges.
So I’m a quiet fan of roly-poly comic actor Kevin James, who made his name on TV’s The King of Queens and became part of Adam Sandler’s goofball troop. Just look at his recent leading roles in Paul Blart: Mall Cop and Zookeeper.
He has a way of throwing his heavy frame around that’s intended for action but often ends in laughs.
And it’s not all just fatty-fall-down gags. James has the hangdog look and charm of an everyman who, with the right story, can become a working-class hero.
Here Comes the Boom is not quite that vehicle — not yet — but it’s a step in the right direction. And it’s not without its lazy laughs and likability, even if it blends two genres that couldn’t be more at odds — the underdog sports actioner and the feel-good musical drama. Think Rocky or Warrior meets Mr Holland’s Opus.
Thanks to an uncaring school system, Scott Voss (James) gave up being a good biology teacher long ago. All his efforts now go into getting a date with the hot school nurse (Salma Hayek).
But when the school’s successful music program is axed from the budget and its inspirational teacher (Henry Winkler) faces the sack, Scott feels obliged to help, if for nothing more than to win the nurse’s affections. Hey, if Hayek was my school nurse, I’d happily get beaten and bloodied every day!
When Scott tutors a hulking martial-arts expert (Bas Rutten), he gets the idea to step into the ring to raise the $48,000 needed to save the music department. After all, Scott wrestled in college. How hard can it be?
Well, it’s not a ring, it’s a cage. And it’s not wrestling, it’s mixed martial arts (MMA), which is America’s fastest-growing sport (and recently depicted in the excellent underdog film Warrior with Joel Edgerton and Tom Hardy).
After a few embarrassing beat-downs and one amusing vomiting incident, Scott decides to trim down, shape up and get serious.
Cue the Rocky-style training montages with the help of some real-life fighters in small roles as trainers.
Cue the requisite blows to James’ body, which is pummelled like that side of beef in Rocky.
Cue the surprisingly cool soundtrack, with Neil Diamond’s Holly Holy remixed by Ultralove in a way that gives it a surprisingly catchy beat. Other tunes are from the likes of Wolfmother, P.O.D. and O.S.T.
James uses his schlubby, beefy body for maximum physical comedy early on, to varying effect. The film picks up in the second half, after James reportedly lost 32kg, when he turns into a leaner, quicker boxer and wrestler, climaxing with a UFC fight against the fearsome undefeated champ. Can you see where this is heading?
Hayek brings the sexy and then some, yet Here Comes the Boom riffs on every inspirational sports movie ever made.
It’s as derivative as it is predictable. It’s laid-back and mildly amusing and, while there’s not enough to really rattle your cage, it doesn’t pretend to be anything more than a good, honest, working-class comedy.
Here Comes the Boom is now screening.