Whence comes the boom? Here, here comes the boom. This and other great existential questions of our time are at last answered in Kevin James's new mixed martial arts comedy, the appropriately titled Here Comes the Boom.
Other questions may vault from the mind like so many lumps on a concussed lunk's skull. What's it about? And why? You're on your own for the latter, but as for the former:
James plays Scott Voss, a negligent and uninterested teacher at a failing public high school. When the student orchestra program is defunded, Voss begins moonlighting as a mixed martial arts fighter to pay its bills, while also courting a beautiful nurse (Salma Hayek) though persistent workplace sexual harassment.
Henry Winkler plays the orchestra's prissy conductor and the cast is rounded out by reigning luminaries of MMA, identifiable in that they are the only people on screen other than James who do not appear on loan from a mouthwash commercial.
Ours is not to ask why MMA fighting is Scott's solution to a problem for which there is no evidence he'd even care to solve (other than that Germany is clamoring for another Kevin James film and English isn't necessary to understand a shirtless fat man getting kicked in the face). Unlikely as a solution as it is, Scott laments, "This wasn't plan A but I don't know what else to do." Except that it absolutely was plan A; at no point does he consider any solution other than having the stuffing knocked out of him by a succession of increasingly tattooed pain machines.
And there were options. The orchestra sounds far better than what most underfunded high school programs could produce and is nearly indistinguishable from the professional orchestra that soundtracks the movie. The students could have hired out their services to score inspirational sports comedies, for example. Or, Scott could have done an independent assessment of the school budget to see what other adjustments could be made. This, however, may have been too similar to the plot of the next Tyler Perry film.
Aside from a cut by his eye that gives him an excuse to see Hayek's nurse, a bruise on his leg that gives him an excuse to see Hayek's nurse and a dislocated shoulder that gives us an excuse to see Hayek resetting it in a low-cut top, Scott spends most of the film getting bludgeoned without receiving so much as a scratch. Would that our educational system were so resilient.
James appears to do be doing most of his own stunts, a notable exception coming early in the film when it seems that a helmeted Andrej Pejic (you know, the androgynous supermodel) doubles for James during a motorcycle jump. The fights are choreographed and shot exceptionally well which, while not necessary in a comedy, is a nice thing to see at the cinema, especially after Taken 2 in which Liam Neeson hunts down and violently kills every last decent film editor in Hollywood.
Here Comes the Boom was made with the full cooperation of the UFC. Given that Battleship was made with the US Navy and featured aliens and Midshipman Rihanna, this doesn't mean much. What we do get, however, are cameos from UFC personages like ring doctor Stitch ("Hey, you're Stitch!" Scott announces for our benefit) and star commentator Joe Rogan.
With Fear Factor on hiatus, Rogan has the time to fly to Boston for a ninety-second sit down meeting with Scott, given that he does not have to administer any live spider suppositories to fame-hungry actress/models in Los Angeles. Later, Rogan will pay to ship the full impoverished orchestra (and presumably a sufficient number of chaperones) to Las Vegas to perform at the film's climactic fight. It's a reminder as we approach the holiday seasons that when giving gifts, though it's the thought that counts, cash counts more.
It's no spoiler to reveal that Scott makes it from the bottom rungs of the mixed martial arts circuit to a high profile UFC fight; if you've seen any other sports comedy ever, you know it's coming. In some ways, the film resembles a kidnapper's note collaged from pieces of producer Adam Sandler's other films. There's the man-child spurred on to greatness by the improbable love of a beautiful woman. They way he discards his selfish ways to do kind things for a series of minor supporting characters. The mild xenophobia normally embodied by Rob Schneider is here given over to a classroom of troublingly stupid immigrants studying with Scott for their citizenship test. In these students' defense, there are few better resources to learn about contemporary American citizenry than from Scott's myopic, shiftless, sexually-entitled heap of underachieving sorrow.
Which isn't to say that the film isn't funny. The one-liners have an absurdist glee to them and James generates so much goodwill through his charm that his character's loathsomeness is easily embraced. But there's an obsession with hitting the plot points of an Inspirational Sports Comedy that makes the film uncomfortable, the same way that someone who makes you put hospital booties on over your shoes when you visit their house would. The emotional moments and inspirational content are crammed in our mouths like the fists of an MMA fighter who has us down on the mat. Still, you know it's coming when you step into this octagon.
But credit is due to James, who also co-wrote and produced the film, for bringing immigration issues and the budgetary crisis of the educational system into a mainstream comedy during an election year. The politics of this film may be muddled, but they're more substantial than Paul Blart: Mall Cop's investigation of national security and consumerism.
And get this: though UFC 155 won't even occur until the end of 2012, the climactic fight in the film is set at UFC 176. This would set Here Comes the Boom squarely in the middle of a dystopic Romney presidency in which school budgets are slashed and what teachers do remain are forced to engage in bloodsport just for a couple pieces of chalk.
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It's a chilling glimpse at our shared future, but it's also a future that includes roundhouse kicks and Salma Hayek. Hope springs eternal in the human breast.
Here Comes the Boom opens Friday, October 12.