Kevin James reteams with director Frank Coraci and the Happy Madison crew for Here Comes the Boom, an underdog comedy about a guy who throws himself into a sport he knows little about for a worthy cause. Before high-tailing it in the other direction due to thoughts of another Waterboy or Zookeeper, which wouldn't be a groundless or entirely invalid assumption, stay for a moment and consider the possibility that the Coraci-James combo might've cooked up something more assured and conscientious here. There's no denying that it's taken to the same worn-out template; screwball slapstick humor in training montages, clumsy flirts between an awkward hero and his appealing love interest, and a clichéd heightening of the stakes near the end give that away. Yet, the noble foundation it's built upon, about sacrificing for children's needs and the threat of academic lethargy in classrooms, allows its reputable charm to take this zany, hot-blooded throwdown in the MMA world up a step.
James, who has trimmed down and beefed up quite a bit through training, plays high-school biology professor Scott Voss, once a lauded teacher who now arrives late, merely tolerates his sessions, and fruitlessly hits on the school nurse, Bella (Salma Hayek). He's confronted with the opportunity to muster some oomph again, though, when the school is forced to make budget cuts -- and one of its central decisions is to remove the $48,000 music department, headed by a gentle, inspiring conductor, Marty (Henry Winkler). After all other options dry up, and after he watches a UFC fight on television where he learns that the loser made $10,000, he cooks up the idea to get in the ring and pull the money together through failed MMA competitions. Scott, once a wrestler in school, enlists the help of an aspiring US citizen, Niko (Bas Rutten), to show him the ropes so that he won't get demolished in the ring. Thus begins the high-school professor's journey into the realm of hand-to-hand cage fighting.
Despite Coraci and James fighting to make Here Comes the Boom as authentic and considerate as possible, it can't avoid hefty, unsurprising contrivances that knock the wind out of the comedy's simulated realness. You get the idea as soon as the music program's budget is cut without any warning to the department; I don't call into question that similar scenarios do occur, but the hastiness of its delivery renders the moment artificial here, an unfortunate turn of events considering it gets Scott's transformative gears turning. The relationship angle between Scott and Bella piggybacks on that too, leading to an awkward non-chemistry only spruced up by Hayek's disarming presence, her flirtations warming as the teacher rediscovers his gusto. An unnecessary subplot featuring his down-and-out handyman brother (Gary Valentine) and his aspiration to be a chef also redundantly underlines the idea of following one's ambition. We get it: It's cool to defeat the odds for personal and interpersonal progress.
But, I suppose there's no harm in aiming big when you're hurling the inelegant, aging Scott Voss into the fray to literally take a beating for the future of his school's extracurricular programs. Here Comes the Boom has a good bit of fun when it plays with the martial-arts content, where cheeky training sessions involving mattress armor and getting clobbered by numerous foes filter into the fights themselves, which are surprisingly rigorous. The humor here doesn't generate raucous laughs, even moments that probably should; the battles occasionally spark a few chuckles, such as an impromptu fight in the rain and the after-effects of eating old applesauce, but they mostly emphasize Scott's fish-outta-water ungainliness while tumbling around the ring. With that, some restraint can be seen in Coraci's direction, treading the line between common sense and whimsy through well-composed, occasionally gruff competition. No delusions involving multiple Winklers singing "Water Sucks!" on the heads of football players, instead replaced by the twitchy training of an MMA veteran, one-punch knockouts, and the unspoken humor behind a stocky teacher brawling against seasoned fighters.
The urge to cry foul on the unlikelihood of Here Comes the Boom partly surrenders to its noble intentions, where the invigorating tones that driven films like Warrior are repurposed into an optimistic lark about preserving our schools' enrichment and bolstering those stuck in the doldrums. Gloomy blues and oranges in Phil Meheux's cinematography rejuvenate into vibrant, hopeful colors as Scott wrestles closer to his goal, and while very little isn't predictable -- where Scott's headed, where his relationship with Bella is going, and that the stakes will embellish out of control for dramatic effect -- that doesn't stop Kevin James from charmingly pushing forward in an rousing rush of blood and sweat. That gain in both visual and emotional escalation comes at the expense of common sense; the final act ditches most of the realism left for a helping of rip-roaring gratification. Alas, it's difficult not to suspend disbelief and cheer for the reawakened warrior educator, despite having awareness of the situation's absurdity and acknowledging that it missed an opportunity to become something greater.
Video and Audio:
I briefly touched on the fact that Here Comes the Boom escalates in color as the film's progresses, where heavy, stony blues and oranges blossom into vigorous "true to life" colors in a way that underscores the growth of passion and determination around our hero. Sony's 1080p presentation of the 1.85:1-framed cinematography grapples with this shift in palette with immense agility, respecting the emotional tempo through a self-possessed projection of robust skin tones and depths of rich contrast -- aside from a few moments of ultra-deep black levels. Beads of sweat and the occasional stream of blood reveal a vigorous eye for detail during high-motion scenes, enhanced by a fierce grip on motion when Scott gets slammed around the ring, while a customary array of close-ups feed the eyes with details in clothing, skin textures, and the semi-rural Boston locations. This is stock modern cinematography handled with a clear, realistic perspective, and it looks exceptionally good in high-definition.
The sounds of MMA cage matches and the training for said brawls dominate the 5.1 Master Audio presentation, elevating the roar of rowdy crowds and the smacks of bodies on the tarp with a suitable, engaging amount of force. Leading off with the noise of a motorcycle revving and the fluctuation of an orchestra's many components, the surround activity often immerses the audience in ambience, even if the design's direction naturally brings attention to the front-channels for the consistent dialogue. A few of the punches, kicks, and thumps rap against the lower-frequency channels, while the upper-level smacks of kicks and such retain enough crispness to keep the mood coasting along. The dialogue has occasional hollow or flat moments, usually in more complex sound environments (like in the ring), but for the majority the synergy of sports aural energy here remains full-bodied and winning.
The lump sum of the supplements amounts to roughly thirty minutes of expected press-kit material comprised of a series of brief featurettes, where sassy, appreciative interviews mix with behind-the-scenes shots that correlate with what James, Coraci, and the others are discussing. Here Comes the Cast (6:24, HD) touches on the individual cast members and what they bring to the production, which covers how Kevin James got to know MAA fighter Bas Rutten and what it's like to work with Henry Winkler. More interesting is the Back to School (4:27, HD) piece, which discusses how Coraci and his production crew utilized an abandoned school for the shoot. Three Amigos (5:39, HD) touches on the synergy between Henry Winkler, Bas Rutten, and Muay Thai boxer Mark DellaGrotte, and The Pros (3:00, HD) briefly glosses over the true fighters and trainers featured in the film.
Easily the best of the features is Learning How to Fight (8:48, HD): while relatively short, this piece shows off how Kevin James trained for the role and where his fascination for the sport derives, focusing on how his technique developed with real trainers (including Mark DellaGrotte himself) and how adept he'd be in the arena otherwise. It makes a pretty solid case for James potentially being able to get at least partially as far as he does in the film, while also emphasizing the actor's dedication to both the role and his physical health. Two fun, throwaway bits, Gino Vs. Richie (3:49, HD)and Disco Street Fighting (2:05, HD), polish off the stock supplemental content with a touch of humor, while a healthy array of Deleted Scenes (16:18, HD), many of which were wise cuts, and a Gag Reel (2:36) offer a decent way to carry the laughs over after the film finishes. Finally, an Ultraviolet voucher for the film has also been included.
As advertised, Here Comes the Boom features Kevin James throwing himself in the ring for the sake of extracurricular activities, taking the sports-comedy formula and giving it a stiffer upper lip. The results aren't too shabby; while it can't find a stable perspective among slapstick humor, uplifting purpose, and personal drama, it succeeds barely enough in all those categories to make Scott Voss' weathered time in the ring an amusing one that's not without some heart. Between watching the occasionally hard-hitting brawls and the straight-faced Waterboy-meets-Warrior framework, coupled with Sony's diligent audiovisual prowess in the Blu-ray arena, it's certainly likable enough for a Rental.