There’s no doubt Kevin James can be a pretty funny guy – King of Queens drew a few laughs from me back in “the day” – but he’s also had to rely on the age-old “love me because I’m fat” gimmick. That may sound harsh, but as a fellow large adult male, I empathize with the natural, slightly sophomoric comedy that comes with being overweight. So I was excited after I heard the news that he had slimmed down significantly for his role in Here Comes the Boom – he did – as I was eager to see how he would do without his crutch. Plus, the concept of Kevin James getting the crap beat out of him, to raise money for charity or otherwise, is golden.
There’s a bit of good news/bad news to report, on that front. The good news is that James did slim down, tremendously, and was in great shape. And for the most part, I quite enjoyed his role as Scott Voss – middle-aged school teacher, turned UFC fighter. As unbelievable as the concept sounds – and largely, was executed – its very nature opens itself up for some good laughs. Part of comedy is forcing the audience to suspend its disbelief; in real life, these things don’t happen, and the day-to-day is far less entertaining. That brings us to the bad news: most of the film’s secondary acts were, predictably, cheesy adages more interested in being stereotypes than authentic, delved-out characters. Such is life in the comedy industry. For proof of that, see 90% of Adam Sandler and Jim Carry’s collection – you’ll find the ridiculous main character, involved in a ridiculous scenario, but surrounded by tired and redundant tropes.
The only real exception to this is Henry Winkler (Arrested Development), who plays Scott Voss’ friend and colleague, Marty Streb. Marty is a music teacher, whose position is being dissolved by the school board, struggling with tough budget restrictions. Even Winkler, who delivers some of the more chuckle-worthy lines of the film, is just as stereotypically whimsical as you’d expect from a Hollywood-produced high school music teacher. He’s upbeat (no pun intended), overly optimistic at all times, but also likable enough that you want our hero to succeed. After all, who wouldn’t want to help struggling teachers and save the dreams and passions of a bunch of teenagers? Unfortunately, halfway through the film, that concept is beaten into you so much the movie starts to feel like a PBS phone-a-thon for supporting the arts in public schools.
“Without music, life would be a mistake.” Really? It was cheesy when Nietzsche said it, and it’s doubly cringe-worthy as the theme of Here Comes the Boom.
Bella Flores (Salma Hayek) is the classically out-of-reach foreign hotty, whom Scott has failed to ask out over a dozen times. Bas Rutten joins the cast as a former MMA fighter-turned-trainer, Niko, who just happens to be a student in the citizenship class Scott teaches on the weekends. The two end up watching a UFC pay-per-view before a private study session, and as Scott realizes a fighter received $10,000 for losing his match, the inspiration for our movie’s major plot is born. Niko and Bella become a large part of the film, but both are so stereotypically “foreign”, they often serve as nothing more than plot vehicles. By the end of our 105-minute journey, Bella had (of course!) come around on a romantic relationship with Scott, and Niko become the man to successfully train a school teacher to winning a $50,000 fight in the UFC.
And therein lies one of the most unbelievable aspects of the film. Watching Kevin James get beaten up in MMA fights, getting a few hundred bucks off his loses, is one thing. Pretending like the UFC – the godfather of MMA on this planet – would be interested in an undercard match featuring a school teacher with a half-dozen loses is laughable. Fighters train their entire lives to never get a shot at Dana White’s juggernaut. As I mentioned, suspension of disbelief is a natural thing to ask of your viewers. And if you’ve never been a fan of MMA, or never seen a UFC pay-per-view, I guess I could understand feigning ignorance for the sake of comedy. Nobody that claims to be a fan of the industry, however, is going to be able to take the conclusion seriously. Trained professionals don’t fight 10 times in a month, let alone middle-aged high school biology teachers. Fighting for a “good cause” isn’t going to get Dana White interested in you. The UFC is not going to pay to fly out a 150-piece high school orchestra to play the aforementioned middle-aged high school biology teacher’s entrance music. Yes, it’s a comedy. Yes, UFC signed on with the film for cross-promotion. No, that does not give me a good enough reason to shake my head and go along with a plot that doesn’t just utilize suspended disbelief; it uses it as a vehicle!
If it drops on Netflix, or you’re looking for a fun, PG-driven, $1 family experience from Red Box, I would recommend checking out Here Comes the Boom. But its overuse of genre sins makes it pretty unforgivable, and while I did find some laughs and a strong performance by Kevin James hidden in the movie’s folds (not a fat joke), I wouldn’t pay $20+ for the Blu-ray.
Kevin, this is what happens when you align yourself with Adam Sandler. You make cookie-cutter comedy films. Get out NOW while your career still has a chance…