REVIEW: Bloody Here Comes the Boom Gets Lazier As Kevin James Loses Brain Cells

Movieline Score: 4
Here Comes the Boom review

The first half hour of Here Comes the Boom is so good moviegoers might be fooled into expecting something better than an obvious wish fulfillment fantasy so patently implausible it’s almost insulting. Sadly, those moviegoers would be wrong. Star, producer, and co-writer Kevin James creates a witty, confident everyman in the first act, only to sacrifice him to the pic’s demands for formula and sentimentality thereafter.

James plays Scott Voss, a Boston high school biology teacher sunk in a bog of laziness and apathy. He’s the kind of cartoonishly bad educator who arrives late to class every morning and ignores his students while reading the paper with his feet propped on his desk. Yet Scott’s extremely likable all the same:  he’s smart, funny, and not too jaded to be inspired by Marty (Henry Winkler), the goofy but saintly music teacher. There’s even a hint of sexual charisma in his failed flirtations with the school nurse (a pleasingly age-appropriate Salma Hayek).

The plot gets rolling when the principal (Greg Germann) announces that budget cuts will force the imminent shutdown of the music program. Knowing that Marty is the school’s best teacher, and the father of a surprise late-in-life baby, Scott vows to raise the $48,000 needed to keep the music program running. This promise first leads him to teaching citizenship classes at night school, then inexplicably becoming a cage fighter.

Here’s a thought experiment: Is there any way Scott’s four-month journey from middle-aged lug with a few spare tires to mixed-martial artist fighting against professional pugilists half his age could work? Maybe if James was replaced with Tom Hardy or one of the Expendables in their prime. James’ arms are as thick as most men’s calves here, but he still looks more like he’s eaten a professional fighter than become one. It doesn’t help that the movie makes the mistake of having Scott recover as quickly as Wile E. Coyote, further defying its viewers’ suspension of disbelief.

Scott’s hare-brained scheme to join the UFC world doesn’t just give the film a serious plausibility problem. It also lowers the character’s IQ by several dozen points even before his opponents punch him repeatedly in the head. Scott just doesn’t seem as smart afterward. The jokes get lazier too. The sharp zingers of the first act are blunted into broad gags, though the pic’s one gross-out scene — which stems from James' consumption of a batch of bad homemade applesauce — is a hilarious surprise.

Worst of all, the sheer unlikelihood of Scott’s victory sends the movie on the fast track to Clichéville, where underdogs win every fight and all fat slobs are secret mensches who deserve hot tamales like Hayek.

Luckily, Here Comes the Boom has retired UFC fighter and sports personality Bas Rutten to inject some wild-card energy back into the film. A craggily handsome Dutch giant with a body built for hurting, Rutten is an UFC superstar and one of the hyperviolent league’s most winsome advocates. He’s also a delightfully affable screen presence and pretty much saves the film from drowning in its own cheesiness. Rutten plays Nico, a former fighter and current aerobics instructor who’s a student in Scott’s citizenship class. Nico doesn’t think Scott has what it takes to succeed as a MMA fighter, but he’s a supportive friend and a dedicated coach.

Rutten’s character comes with an injured neck in his backstory, so the only ones duking it out in the ring are James and some anonymous muscleheads. The fight scenes are cursory and exist only to trace plot points, not to provide visceral thrills. There’s no movement, no chase, and thus no pleasure. The film’s climactic brawl, between Scott and a tattooed tornado of muscle (MMA fighter Krzysztof Soszynski), is shot UFC-style, at close range with leering, lo-res cameras. The black wire cage that locks the fighters in the ring feels claustrophobic. And yes, there is an alarming amount of blood.

Despite its reliance on well-worn tropes, Here Comes the Boom feels like a risky project, and in many ways like James' first adult movie despite its PG rating. The movie gives the genial actor a makeover by knocking out Paul Blart: Mall Cop and Zookeeper and replacing them with an edgy tough guy who sweats blood and knocks strangers out cold. You know, for the children.

It’s that weird dichotomy between gooey values and enthusiastic violence — both the character’s and the film’s — that makes Here Comes the Boom so schizophrenic — and therefore, so interesting. It’s too bad the film’s far-fetched premise will mean few viewers will be eager to swallow James’ strange concoction of sugar and blood.

Inkoo Kang is a Boston-based film journalist and regular contributor to BoxOffice Magazine whose work has appeared in Pop Matters and Screen Junkies. She reviews stuff she hates, likes, and hate-likes on her blog THINK-O-VISION.

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  • Betty says:

    Here Comes the Boom is rated PG, not R.

  • I think James will do a credible job as an MMA fighter.
    A lifelong Martial Artist who earned a high ranking black belt, this could very well open the door for James to branch into action films.
    It is a great storyline where against the odds an aging former athlete crosses into the octagon violence and puts it on the line all for the sake of "stepping up".
    James fans will love the movie, as much as Dana White and the "big wigs" at the UFC.
    Last, and most certainly not least, former UFC champ Bas Rutten puts the fininshing touches on the movie.
    For those that don't know of him, Bas was beast in the cage whose skills would serve him well in today's UFC.
    Everybody has nothing but great things to say about Bas Rutten.
    Great choice Kevin!

  • Chadbeets says:

    I just watched this and i can NOT agree with what was said above... This movie was great!! Thank you kevin james and all who were involved i enjoyed it!

  • Camron says:

    I personally thought the movie was great. Yes it is far fetched that he could defeat those fighters, but it is an inspirational piece, and I think that, that was the point of it all. Was to inspire. Also towards the end of the film, his body appearance did change quite a bit, and his shoulders showed it in the frontal view. While standing in front of the executioner, his muscle mass in his biceps do appear to match that of Ken's. This was a very good flick and very inspiring to people. He tried something, no one thought he could do, in order to solve an unseemingly insolvable problem, and he came out on top for his students. I recommend everyone see this film.