By Jim Genia
It is physically impossible to walk into a Kevin James flick with high dramatic expectations. I mean, come on, this is the man who brought us such cinematic classics as Zookeeper, Paul Blart: Mall Cop, and I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry. If you bought a ticket to anything starring the actor and thought you were getting a shoe-in for this year’s Academy Award for Best Picture, you deserve to have your mullet set on fire. That said, James — who’s long been a supporter of the UFC, and whose presence at Octagonside has been frequent and well-documented by Zuffa cameraman desperate for an eight-second cutaway shot of something even just moderately noteworthy — stars in Here Comes the Boom, a UFC-centric comedy that opens today. How is it? Well, it’s no Gone with the Wind, but it’ll do.
The premise is simple, and something we’ve seen a million times before: an apathetic dude starts to give a crap about something noble, and goes through hell to do some good for that thing he previously did not give a crap about. James is, of course, the apathetic dude, a high school biology teacher named “Scott Voss” from Boston, MA, who puts about zero effort into teaching and too much effort into trying to land a date with the school nurse (Salma Hayek, cleavage-alicious as usual). But when budget woes spell impending doom for the music teacher’s job (played by a schlubby Henry Winkler — remember the Fonz? Yeah, he’s dead now.), it’s time for Voss to step up and do something drastic to plug up the school’s fiscal hole. And hey, what better way to earn cash then to become a UFC fighter?
Thankfully, there are the requisite laughs, and plenty of inside jokes and nods to MMA’s legion of fans. Bas Rutten — who plays a Dutchman named “Niko” and essentially acts like Bas Rutten – assumes the role of coach, a job he juggles while studying to become a citizen and working as a yoga/streetfight-aerobics/disco spinning class instructor. Mark DellaGrotte (playing himself) steps up as Voss’ Muay Thai trainer, and hijinks ensue there. Since Voss is a nobody in the sport, he has to start at the bottom and work his way up the minor league ladder, and along the way he fights a number of familiar faces (including Jason “Mayhem” Miller, who’s named “Lucky Patrick” but essentially acts like Jason “Mayhem” Miller), culminating in an Octagon face-off with Krzystof Soszynski (who’s named “Ken Dietrich”, but who essentially acts like someone who’s good at fighting).
What sets Here Comes the Boom apart from MMA-heavy flicks that have come before it is how big a role the UFC apparatus plays. Remember how Top Gun starred Tom Cruise AND the US Navy? Here Comes the Boom very clearly stars Kevin James AND the UFC. Joe Rogan is in it as himself, Mike Goldberg is in it as himself, “Stitch” is in it, Bruce Buffer is in it…if a filmmaker got in bed with the UFC any more than this, Dana White would have to take a pregnancy test afterwards. And really, this symbiosis isn’t so much a bad thing. In fact, to an MMA fan, it perhaps adds to the appeal.
Yes, there’s enough cheese in the flick to make Mickey Mouse vomit, especially whenever the beleaguered music students are on screen. But James does a bang-up job in terms of hitting the necessary comedic notes (and Rutten does wonderfully hitting his), and the action — though staged — isn’t wholly unappealing. I daresay it’s even realistic.
Bottom line: is Here Comes the Boom worth your time? Yeah, it is, especially if you go in expecting a Kevin James comedy. If you go in expecting more…Dude, we can’t be friends anymore.