The last thing I expected when walking in to see Kevin James’ latest, Here Comes the Boom, was to be surprised by it. Wouldn’t you know it – I was – and pleasantly at that. The film is unabashedly patriotic without overdoing it. It speaks to the all too prevalent problem of underfunded public schools without beating it like a dead horse. And, it features an inspirational story that doesn’t simply show what one underdog can achieve but what an entire community can accomplish when working toward a commonly beneficial goal. To be sure, James’ brand of humor is present as well – pratfalls abound as well as awkward moments between our hero and the woman he’s pursuing - but neither is overdone which results in a charming change of pace.
James is Scott Voss, a veteran science teacher at a Boston high school who has reached the midway point of his career and is content to coast toward retirement. However, he’s roused to action when it’s revealed that the school will have to cut its music program because of budgetary issues. This will leave the head of that department, Marty Streb (Henry Winkler) without a job, a circumstance that couldn’t come at a worse time as he’s just found out that he’s about to become a father once again. Desperate and at loose ends, Voss comes up with the insane notion of participating in various amateur mixed martial arts tournaments in order to raise the necessary $48,000 to save the program. Reasoning that he’ll make money even if he loses, the out-of-shape educator quickly finds out just how outmatched he is. However, Niko (Bas Rutten), one of the students in the citizenship class he’s teaching part time, is a former fighter, and he agrees to help Voss train in exchange for private tutoring lessons so that he can pass the test to become a U.S. citizen.
Reminiscent of films made during the Great Depression, Boom comes off as a sincere expression of the American ideal; that one is able to transform themselves through hard work and that they can serve as a positive example for others which can help exact widespread change. It’s a notion that we needed to hear then and one we surely could stand to hear now. James and co-writers Allan Loeb and Rock Reuben unabashedly put forth the notion that America is still the land of opportunity, as seen through the eyes of Niko who stops at nothing to become a citizen, as well as a place where, if its citizens unite behind a cause, anything is possible. This is Frank Capra territory, and while director Frank Coraci will never be mentioned in the same breath as that great artist, he wisely doesn’t overplay things here, never opting for a moment that’s too cute or manipulative thus keeping the film’s sincerity in tact.
Not only is the underdog story engaging but also so are the MMA bouts. Many current and former fighters from the sport appear in the film, lending a credibility to it that’s one of its strengths. For much of the movie, Voss is portrayed as being in over his head, which James pulls off convincingly. His growth in the fighting arena is portrayed as a very slow process and is as realistic as it possibly can be in a film of this sort. And while it contains no surprises in its third act, the movie at least tries to be plausible and James’ Everyman quality helps.
Without question, Boom has its fair share of corny moments but there’s an innocence at play as well that makes it charming. And while I came to accept the notion that Voss might be able to survive in the world of MMA, I had a harder time accepting the fact that he could end up with a woman as lovely as school nurse Bella played by Salma Hayek. Then again, with the film espousing that America is the country where dreams come true, Voss’ success in this arena would qualify as his “Pursuit of Happiness,” so I’ll let it pass.
Contact Chuck Koplinski at email@example.com.