'Here Comes the Boom': James Puts Up a Fight
James Rocchi, Special to MSN Movies
Considering that we usually see Kevin James mostly in proximity to the comedy antimatter that Adam Sandler now represents -- not only unfunny, but pulling any accidental or ambient comedy from the air around him into his soul to smother and destroy it -- "Here Comes the Boom" is a welcome surprise. While it's directed by Frank Coraci, who also gave us "Click" and "The Waterboy," "Here Comes the Boom" is enjoyable -- or, at the very least, not torture like "Grown Ups" and "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry." And while it does a serious disservice to suggest that all Mr. James needs to do to make an adequate film is not be near Mr. Sandler, the evidence nonetheless leads us to that conclusion.
James (who also co-wrote alongside Allan Loeb and Rock Reuben) plays Scott Voss, a burned-out Boston biology teacher who used to care but has seen his enthusiasm slip away between apathetic kids and petty bureaucrats. The final straw comes when the school's staff are told that cutbacks mean closing down all extracurricular activities, which includes music and the position held by music teacher Marty Streb (Henry Winkler), who's got a baby on the way. This offends Scott -- and it more importantly offends Ms. Flores (Salma Hayek), a nice nurse Scott has his eye on -- and so he sets about to make the $47,000 it will take to save Marty's job and program through the most logical way he can: by competing in mixed martial arts fights.
Scott is not, it should be noted, fighting to win. As he learns from Niko (real MMA fighter Bas Rutten), a burly student in his U.S. citizenship class he's teaching on the side, even losing a fight can earn you, in five minutes, far more money than you would make, say, teaching a U.S. citizenship class on the side. And so Scott -- who used to wrestle in high school and college, many years and pounds ago -- figures that he can, in fact, raise the money to save music and Marty by getting the hell beaten out of him on a regular basis.
As played by James, Scott Voss has a big heart and a low center of gravity. As Niko and Marty become his support team, he has his own passions for teaching and life reignited like they haven't been in years. And James is good here: dogged, determined, wondering how precisely he wound up apathetic and indifferent. And Winkler, as the warm, lightly confused but steadfast Marty, is excellent, and gives the film a lot of sincerity and a few great laughs. The film is shot nicely where the fight scenes have the fast, scary feel of a real fight. While James clearly had some stunt doubles, he also clearly did not have them at all times.
"Here Comes the Boom" is false about MMA fighting, but it is, in its way, less false than the manipulative and maudlin "Warrior," and portrays the risks alongside the rewards. It would, I'm sure, be more realistic to have Scott Voss killed in the ring, but that would also be a very different film. "Here Comes the Boom" may be a montage-heavy rip-off of fight films since the beginning of time, but it's at least smart enough to show us Scott Voss trying, and combines moments for the heart with blows to the head in agreeably acceptable fashion.
James Rocchi's writings on film have appeared at Cinematical.com, Netflix.com, AMCtv.com, IFC.com, SFGate.com and in Mother Jones magazine. He was also the on-air film critic for San Francisco's CBS-5 from 2006 to 2008. He now lives in Los Angeles, where every ending is a twist ending.