Starring Kevin James, Henry Winkler. Written by Kevin James, Allan Loeb, and Rock Reuben. Directed by Frank Coraci. PG. 105 min.
Here Comes the Boom isn’t half-bad for a movie named after a P.O.D. nu-metal song, and it easily tops the canon of films in which Kevin James becomes an unlikely [fill-in-the-blank]. The former King of Queens is cast here as Scott Voss, a high-school teacher who takes up cage fighting to save a beloved colleague’s fiscally imperilled music program. It’s an utterly mechanical set-up, but the fact that Scott is primarily inspired by a quote from Nietzsche—“without music, life would be a mistake”—is not insignificant. In between shots of its star getting his face kicked in, Here Comes the Boom is a movie that tries to wrestle with the theme of inspiration.
The film’s secret weapons are the actors surrounding James, who give off infectiously good vibes: not only Henry Winkler as the music teacher, but also Dutch MMA fighter Bas Rutten, who is winning as a former UFC star who becomes Scott’s protégé in a night-school citizenship class and repays him by offering ring tutelage.
Director Frank Coraci goes out of his way to make the characters—even the minor ones—sympathetic, and the blunt ingratiation works. By the time a bulked-up Scott is staring down a tattooed knockout expert nicknamed “The Executioner” at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, the film has worked up a rousing, we’re-all-in-this-together sort of feeling.
Some of Coraci’s calculations are off: Scott’s ring travails are more interesting than how he gets his classroom groove back, and his chaste pursuit of school nurse Salma Hayek appears to be missing a few scenes. Predictably structured and speckled together with rock montages, Here Comes the Boom is pure formula. But sometimes that stuff goes down easy, especially when its sweetness doesn’t seem to be artificial.