(by Dustin Putman
Kevin James seems like a nice guy and he's immensely likable on screen, but from 2007's "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry," to 2009's "Paul Blart: Mall Cop," to 2011's "Zookeeper" and everything in between, he has yet to make a good movie. Deep in cahoots with Adam Sandler's Happy Madison shingle, James' movie, like Sandler's and all his other protégés, are paint-by-numbers comedies full of snarky, rude humor, a safely inspirational story, and a love interest. There's always got to be a love interest. "Here Comes the Boom" dutifully checks off all of these prerequisites, but forgets to do one big thing: be funny. Interminable and listless, the film drags on for way too long, straining plausibility and the barest signs of logic as it poses a solution to a problem that will be temporary and fleeting, at best. There's only so much faux-celebratory revelry one viewer can take before said emotions come off as superficial displays of overreacting. Article continues below
42-year-old Scott Voss (Kevin James) is a high school biology teacher who's already been docked a day of vacation for being late when he chooses to take a rare stand against the school board. Due to budgetary cutbacks, the music program led by longtime professor Marty Streb (Henry Winkler) will be shut down unless someone can come up with $48,000 by the end of the school year. Scott's plan is a crazy one, but it might just work. Enlisting the help of trainer Niko (Bas Rutten), one of his current students in a nighttime citizenship course he teaches, he begins participating in mixed martial arts competitions. A former wrestler in college, Scott will need to get back into shape or risk being pummeled, his journey taking him from small-time area matches in Boston all the way to a UFC fight in Las Vegas.
"Here Comes the Boom" was directed by Frank Coraci (2006's "Click") and penned by Kevin James, Rock Reuben, and Allan Loeb (2012's "Rock of Ages"), the moral of their story being that it's never too late to turn things around and achieve what is thought to be the near-impossible. It's a fine message, but not even the brightest idealist would believe the places this movie goes as Scott achieves far more than he - or anyone - ever could have expected. Alternating between obligatory training scenes, fight scenes, and scenes of flirtation with school nurse Bella Flores (Salma Hayek), it is, oddly enough, none of the above that are the most memorable. Instead, Scott's prized pupil Malia (Charice), an aspiring musician who is able to memorize information by turning them into song lyrics, gets the best and more energized moments. For a while she is stuck with a lame subplot - her father wants her to give up her dreams to work for him at his restaurant (what is this, "Kung Fu Panda?") - but newcomer Charice brings such honesty and emotion to the screen that one can't help but care about her. Later appearances, as she tutors Niko in preparation for his citizenship test by twisting the lyrics of his favorite song, Journey's "Faithfully," or a climactic moment where she beautifully performs Neil Diamond's "Holly Holy" before the UFC fight, are even better. For a singer-turned-actor whose biggest notable credit is a guest-starring role on "Glee," Charice is a star in the making with a smile that could light up a New York City blackout.
In a film that struggles to keep its audience's attention, the only other element worth focusing on are its illogical flights of fancy. In addition to Scott's rise to the professional MMA ranks, the very premise itself relies upon Scott selflessly vowing to save a colleague's job mere moments after he's been portrayed as the neglectful, grossly irresponsible male counterpart to Cameron Diaz's "Bad Teacher" character. His sudden turnabout at the ten-minute mark into an all-around nice guy is abrupt, to say the least. Toss in a forced last-minute discovery that adds additional pressure to Scott's UFC fight, as well as the established appearance of the entire penniless music class cheering from the stands (if the school is in such dire straits, who paid for all these underage students to fly from Boston to Las Vegas to attend a top-dollar UFC fight?), and very little seems to add up the more a person thinks about it. Oh, and again: none of it is particularly amusing, with Joe Rogan's straight-faced climactic commentating making one yearn for the acerbic barbs of Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins in the recent "Pitch Perfect."
If there is more than a passing chuckle to be had in "Here Comes the Boom," the memory must have escaped me. It's a slog of a movie, as light as air but not quite so effortless to sit through. In preparing for the role, Kevin James obviously did some serious working out to get into shape, and he looks great. Beyond the physical transformation, he is a pleasing personality in need of a script that gives him better material to work with. Since he's one of the credited screenwriters, maybe the time is now to step aside and concentrate on the acting side of production. As the tough, beguiling Ms. Flores, Salma Hayek (2012's "Savages") is a pleasure as always, but underused; her most notable moment comes when she lets Scott cook dinner for her, only to repay him with a display of her own fighting skills that sees her getting carried away and knocking over his lamps. All considered, the PG-rated "Here Comes the Boom" is too safe to stand out in a crowd and too moronic to be bought into.