I doubt anyone else could have pulled off “Here Comes the Boom” besides Kevin James.
The premise — unmotivated biology teacher Scott Voss (Kevin James, “Hotel Transylvania”) decides to compete in Mixed Martial Arts to help fund his school’s music department — is ripe for jabs. And the cliché-ridden opening half-hour where Scott offers lame pickup lines to the far-too-hot-to-be-a-school –nurse, Bella (Salma Hayek, “Grown Ups”), is ideal for a savage beating, but just as you’re ready to call it down for the count, a funny thing happens —it starts getting good, real good.
And I couldn’t tell you at what point it won me over, but just like the Russian crowd cheering on Rocky in “Rocky IV,” I was rooting for a happy ending even though my cynical little movie critic mind knew the result should be obvious. Not bad for a PG movie that looked like a contender for one of the worst films of the year based on the trailers.
Director Frank Coraci, who most recently collaborated with James in “Zookeeper,” has the unenviable job of mixing comedy with the violent MMA style. There’s not too much blood, but beyond that he’s pretty respectful to MMA and doesn’t treat it like a joke.
Dating back to his sitcom days on “The King of Queens,” James is at his best when he doesn’t have to shoulder the entire load of the comedy. He’s aided here by former MMA fighter and frequent collaborator Bas Rutten (“Paul Blart: Mall Cop”), who plays Niko — a likable physical trainer who reluctantly agrees to train Scott. Rutten is the film’s secret weapon and is a lot of fun whenever he’s onscreen. Henry Winkler has a fun supporting role as the music teacher whose job is on the line and Hayek taps into her underrated comedic side for some awkward, but amusing chemistry with Bella and Scott. “Glee’s” Charice has a solid cameo as Malia, Scott’s precocious, musically talented student.
I was kinda bummed James and co-writers Allan Loeb and Rock Reuben couldn’t come up with a snazzy nickname for James’ character. Scott “The Boss” Voss is right there just begging to be used!
They wisely don’t turn Scott into an overnight MMA sensation, instead having him take his lumps and gladly enduring the beatings to bring home the loser’s purse, which little by little, can save the music department. James isn’t carved in granite, but he’s husky enough that you can buy him picking people up and throwing elbows in their face wouldn’t be pleasant. The story isn’t about an underdog overcoming the odds, but a guy doing what he can to help others. This is James’ best role since “Hitch” and he’s just as likable and fun to watch here.
“Boom” won’t revolutionize sport comedies, but they don’t all have to be classics. I was fully prepared to hate it, but it’s really a lot of fun and will genuinely make you laugh and enjoy it.
Rating: 7 out of 10