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Review: Here Comes the Boom

An MMA movie… starring Kevin James… about music appreciation… named after a P.O.D. song?

 

Here Comes the Boom is a movie of many contradictions. At its heart, of course, is the basic irony that Kevin James, a typically overweight comedian, plays a mixed martial arts fighter who successfully romances Salma Hayek. More than that, the film also touts the importance of school music programs while simultaneously exerting almost all of its energy beating the crap out of people. Its drippy, sentimental storyline somehow manages to foreground inspirational quotes from both The Book of Genesis and Friedrich “God is Dead” Nietzsche. Yet trangest of all, Here Comes the Boom claims to support music appreciation above all things, and then goes ahead and takes its title from a P.O.D. song anyway.

Needless to say, I haven’t seen a movie this confused since a little dance film called Lambada climaxed with a math competition in 1990. But “confused” is not synonymous with “bad.” Here Comes the Boom adds to Kevin James’ filmography yet another harmless, mildly diverting comedy with only a good heart and a small handful of laughs to its credit. That’s not quite enough to make an impact, but it’s still better than antisocial crap like That’s My Boy.

Let’s run down the high concept. Kevin James plays Scott Voss, a former “Teacher of the Year” who in recent years has given up on both his students and his own life. When the school board announces that they’re going to cut all the extracurricular activities because of a budget crisis, Scott steps up to the plate to save the music department (and only the music department), but he soon finds out that raising $50,000 for charity is just as hard as raising $50,000 for any other reason. After a chance encounter with a prospective American citizen played by real life MMA fighter Bas Rutten, Scott discovers that he can make a tidy profit by cage fighting, even if he loses, so he volunteers to get pummeled repeatedly just to make a difference in his students’ lives. Or rather, Henry Winkler’s students’ lives. There’s a little bit of an overlap.

Lots of movies take great pains in exploring their deeper themes through relevant storylines and metaphors. Here Comes the Boom seems to have arbitrarily decided to tack high school band fundraising onto an MMA comedy, thematic connections be damned. Music helps Bas Rutten study for his citizenship test, sure, and the selection of Scott’s intro song comes into play here and there, but Here Comes the Boom would have been basically the same if Scott was trying to save an orphanage, or a pediatric burn ward or an old folks home for retired celebrity voice-over artists instead. It’s not that Here Comes the Boom seems insincere about its message, it’s just that it seems to be cobbled together from two completely different screenplays.

The hybrid Final Draft document they wound up using, however, showcases the Kevin James we’ve all come to know and love, or at least tolerate with a half-hearted shrug. Like Paul Blart: Mall Cop, another surprisingly watchable “high concept” “comedy” featuring the comedian, here James isn’t so much required to be funny as he is required to be sympathetic. He says silly things, but not because he’s stupid, or even because he’s making a joke, but because that’s what a lovable guy would probably do when left alone in a room with someone who looks like Salma Hayek. We sympathize, naturally, so Kevin James gets away with it while we spend half the film wondering if Salma Hayek is playing the same school nurse she played in the sci-fi horror movie The Faculty. (Given the nonchalance with which she treats Here Comes the Boom’s zany storyline, I’m guessing the answer is “yes.”)

Here Comes the Boom attempts to rouse audiences with an underdog story about a hapless boob with a noble cause, who just happens to vomit on his competitors and get outshined by Henry Winkler in almost every scene. And roused we briefly are, because sports movies rely on such consistently successful clichés that meeting them even halfway usually results in success. Here Comes the Boom is a subpar sports movie and a subpar comedy, but its dueling deficiencies somehow manage to cancel each other out. When we’re not laughing, we’re hazily involved in a sports movie. When the sports get boring, Salma Hayek breaks a lamp. So in the end, Here Comes the Boom is just affable enough to get you to smile through from beginning to end, but I swear to God, if this MMA movie winds up making more money than Warrior, I’m going to have to kill myself.