It has become far too easy to dismiss Kevin James movies. If his name is attached to it, one can fairly reason that they should be expecting lots of fat-guy-fall-down jokes and slapstick humor of all kinds. If there’s a painful part of the body someone could take damage to, chances are James will endure that pain. Looking through his filmography is like watching a painfully unfunny highlight reel of what amounts to the lowest form of comedy. His best movie, one could argue, is 2005’s Hitch, but not because it’s an outstanding film; it was just nice enough to give us a script and an idea, regardless of how mundane they were. His latest, however, breaks his trend of unwatchable disasters. Here Comes the Boom is certainly not high art, but then again, it never claims to be.
James plays Scott Voss, a high school Biology teacher whose love for the job has dwindled over the years. He doesn’t really do all that much for his school because of it, but he’s soon called to action when the school announces budget cuts and that they’re getting rid of the music program, run by the high spirited and loving Marty Streb, played by Henry Winkler. The school is short $48,000 and at the end of the year, the man will lose his job, but Scott decides to take matters into his own hands. He wrestled in school when he was younger and was actually pretty good, so he decides to take up mixed martial arts after learning some fighters earn $10,000 just for losing—besides, the two sports can’t be all that different. Also a teacher of an evening citizenship class, Scott eventually employs his student Niko, an ex-MMA fighter played by Bas Rutten, to train him and save the school.
It’s not unusual to see Kevin James fall down and get hit, but most of the time, it’s contextually inappropriate, a lazy ploy to garner a cheap laugh, but in Here Comes the Boom, the constant abuse he takes comes from the inherent violence of the sport itself. Aside from one early moment where he crawls through an open window and crashes to the floor, the slapstick is kept to a minimum. The most obvious attempt at forced slapstick humor comes when his trainer kicks a medicine ball in disgust through a gym and it hits someone in the head, though even then, even when the movie is taking the low road, you can take solace in the fact that it’s not James subjecting himself to such embarrassments. In Here Comes the Boom, he keeps his head held high and his pride intact, which results in him flexing his acting skills instead of his uncanny ability to absorb damage. While by no means an award winner, he’s quite good here and crafts a sympathetic character who longs to do the right thing.
Although characters like him are a dime a dozen in the movies, it’s the timeliness of his intentions that resonate the most. In a time when the public school system seems to be getting worse and worse by the day, it’s refreshing to see a film that portrays a teacher (or, more specifically, teachers) who actually care enough about their students and co-workers to stand up and fight for them, in this case literally. This is a guy who ends up finding meaning in his life by helping others. Sure, his transition from uncaring, disgruntled teacher to high school hero is obvious from the get go (as is his eventual relationship with the school nurse, Bella, played by Salma Hayek), but it would be disingenuous of me to say I didn’t care about what he was doing or that I wasn’t rooting for him to win.
Here Comes the Boom clearly wants you to feel that way, but it tries far too hard, piling on so much cheese that the actual film reel starts to smell. Supposedly touching moments are so overbearing to the point of uncomfortableness; only the talented Henry Winkler manages to pull them off. His love for music and his desire to share that love with others is infectious and heartwarming. When he opens up to Scott near the end, it’s actually kind of moving. Of course, this moving moment wouldn’t have come had it not been for the horribly contrived twist that strips Scott of all the money he had made up to that point, forcing him to win the final match to save the music program and Marty’s job, so it’s a give and take.
But what it amounts to is perhaps Kevin James’ greatest starring role. That may be faint praise when compared to the atrocities he’s subjected us to in the past, but this is a good step towards maturity. Here Comes the Boom has meaning, heart, a radiant Salma Hayek and a very much missed Henry Winkler. It’s also a good showcase for how James can carry a movie when not relegated to bodily harm and gross-out humor. It’s certainly a mixed film and it’s barely recommendable, but the fact that it’s recommendable at all is cause for celebration.
Here Comes the Boom receives 2.5/5