Here Comes The Boom

Kevin James is harmless, relatively speaking. He is of course a monstrosity, cashing in his years of hard time on New York’s stand-up circuit by starring in only the most exceptional garbage. His relative harmlessness stems directly from strong associations with Adam Sandler, a man so inured to the continuing cinematic holocaust that bears his brand, each successive barrel-scraper almost commands a kind of respect. Kevin James is the lovably feeble best bud, a doughy mass whose presence can’t really be considered offensive, at least not in the same way that Sandler’s shrieking assaults the senses. James’ worst crime is his inability to elicit more than a pathetic sigh of sympathy, as opposed to anything approaching laughter. His good-hearted everyman shtick alternates between pitiful and enraging, not least when he grants his characters belief-beggaring abilities, as in this latest cry for help.

Here Comes the Boom is Kevin James’ current sacrifice to the almighty dollar, and it appropriately takes as its backbone -to word it generously- America’s dire economic climate. James stars as high-school biology teacher Scott Voss, an unmotivated cog in an equally apathetic school system. When the school’s budget dictates a fresh raft of cuts, beloved music teacher Marty (an inexcusable Henry Winkler) sees his music program first in line for the shredder. It’s admirable that a comedy as imbecilic as this tries to foreground its story with such a topical setting, but it simply can’t help itself. Going far beyond Voss’s impetus to raise the money needed to Save the Children, Here Comes The Boom slathers every character, scene and situation with anodyne finger-wagging, head-shaking and speech-making that casts a knowing eye toward America’s current fiscal woes. It’s terminal, and worse still, it’s at the expense of even attempting a risk at humour.

Voss’s big plan to raise the necessary money is to enter amateur mixed martial-arts (MMA) bouts, where even the loser gets a handsome payout. So, there’s a lot of Kevin James getting the shit kicked out of him. In this, the film almost discovers redemption and even short spurts of enjoyment. Sadly, James just can’t resist crossing Stallone’s law and ruining what might be Here Comes the Boom‘s only admirable attribute. In the film’s focus on MMA, there’s a very literal suggestion that America should pull up its socks and fight for the future. That Voss can only win by losing (because he’s shaped like Kevin James) is some elementary poetry that isn’t overlooked, and all the small-guy heroism it engenders is dutifully wrung dry.

One small thing, though. When it comes time to save the day (spoiler: he does) he does so by winning. Not only that, he does it by besting a professional UFC fighter in Las Vegas, in front of a crowd of thousands. It’s like Rocky never happened. Here Comes the Boom is more than willing to grant James a little wish-fulfillment (James is an avid UFC fan), throwing in Selma Hayek’s feisty school nurse as a bonus. It unravels any sense of necessary martyrdom on Voss’s part, but it’s barely worth dwelling on. There are other problems that only make the finale that bit more eye-rolling.

Voss also happens to teach a class preparing wide-eyed foreigners for American citizenship. If this were a Sandler vehicle, the classroom would be a padded cell of accents and gesticulation. For better or worse, Here Comes the Boom is far too severe in its assessment of the state of the nation to allow for such broadness. Instead, as Voss befriends Dutch trainer Niko, we see the ex-fighter’s punishing schedule, working in every department of a gym while studying for a shot at the American Dream. It’s a gentle reminder that the economic crash affected everyone, and Here Comes the Boom isn’t above using analogies worthy of classic Star Trek to make its point. In a scene Robin Williams would find too much, Voss inspires his biology class with a desk-hopping lesson in cell regeneration, the final message loud and clear: All that decays can be restored.

Here Comes the Boom is relentless in this manner, preaching hard work and follow-your-dreams banalities while stubbornly refusing to inject even a modicum of laughter into the proceedings. It’s a capital offence for a comedy with so ripe a subject, rendering the pain of the UFC’s Octagon utterly humourless and the agony of the fiscal crisis a bloodless lecture.

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