A sports comedy that misrepresents the sport and misplaces the comedy, Here Comes the Boom is everything we’ve come to loathe about Kevin James’ work on film. Paul Blart: Mall Cop, The Dilemma and The Zookeeper were but cumulative buildup for an MMA film that derives its name from a Nu-Metal standard. By POD. It’s around the time that Henry Winkler breaks into an acoustic rendition of the song that a nightmarish truth becomes undeniable: you’ve been in this theatre for over an hour and a half. There have been hostage standoffs more lenient with peoples’ time.
Here Comes the Boom is a cautionary tale of phoning it in – of making the safe choices around every turn under the promise that if art isn’t already dead, there are people allowed to make films that’ll willingly go into sickbay and finish art off with a pillow. It’s the kind of film where an overweight, 42-year-old Biology teacher trains for six months, learns a couple takedowns and goes on to beat more experienced athletes that aren’t overweight, 42-year-old Biology teachers.
If it’s a slap in the face to the mixed martial arts community, they’re not letting on. This movie has UFC’s name (and money) all over it. Real deal fighters were on set, some like Bas Rutten even play significant roles. It’s designed to bring a beautifully brutal sport to a mainstream audience, more so than Warrior – an infinitely superior film that struggled to find an audience in theatres. As I made my way out of the screening I heard an elderly woman touting the film as the most wholesome comedy she’d seen all year. And that’s a really solid context with which to frame the film: Grandma will love it.
Scott Voss (James) is a tired biology teacher who cares little for his job or his students. His one confidant is Marty (Henry Winkler), head of the school’s music program and newly expectant dad (yup). When budget cuts threaten to take away the music program and Marty’s job, Voss decides to build on his success as a collegiate wrestler and enter the world of mixed martial arts. To that extent, James’ character offers to help the eccentric Niko (Bas Rutten, easily the best performance in the film), a former MMA fighter, gain his citizenship in exchange for Niko showing him a few moves.
As soon as you see the kids in the music program for the first time, you know they’ll play Voss out to the Octagon at the end. The moment Salma Hayek’s boobs enter the frame, you know Voss is going to get with that. The minute Henry Winkler Henry Winklers, you know he’s going to Henry Winkler. And by the time Scott gets offered a UFC contract to fight a young-but-seasoned up and comer, the ending’s a forgone conclusion.
I have no reason to doubt that Kevin James (star of The Zookeeper), writer Allen Loeb (of The Dilemma) and director Frank Coraci (responsible for Click, Around the World in 80 Days, Zookeeper) are nice enough guys. James himself was gracious enough to lend me his time to discuss this very film. But what they’ve established is a worrisome track record. One that embraces the path of least resistance at every turn. Comedians like Ben Stiller employ a model that James would be wise to consider – the “one for them, one for me” approach – where turds like Tower Heist are offered up sacrificially to afford him more meaningful work like Tropic Thunder (some will rightfully debate the merits of said tradeoff). James appears in one safe picture after another – much to the chagrin of his standup fans. In a film where the heartiest laugh comes from James throwing up over an opponent, it’s time to reassess your grasp of comedy and how it’s integrated into cinema.
An experience that will not challenge you, will not offend you and will not offer anything you haven’t seen a thousand times before; it’s a fight film lacking any sort of punch. The boom is coming. Politely flush it away and go about your business.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars