San Francisco Chronicle, Copyright 2012
Sports movies are like romantic comedies: Two minutes into them, we know the whole story. We know what has to happen at the end and all the various sorts of things that will happen in the middle. Yet, if they're done right -- or even sort of right -- they're effective. We end up caring, at least for as long as the film is going through the projector.
So it is with "Here Comes the Boom," with Kevin James as a high school biology teacher who decides to raise big money for his school doing the one legal thing available to him, cage fighting. Cage fighting is not inherently funny. In fact, it's the opposite of funny, something like cock fighting only with people, and this presents a problem the movie never completely overcomes.
The circumstances surrounding the teacher's need to raise money aren't all that funny, either, though that's almost interesting: Scott (James) is a dispirited guy, working at an under-funded school and barely phoning it in with his students. He's a cynic, interested in nothing besides the school nurse (Salma Hayek), who wants nothing to do with him. If you want to take the movie seriously -- this is not advisable -- you might say that "Here Comes the Boom" accurately depicts a middle-aged malaise reinforced by years of living in a recessed or sluggish economy.
One day at a faculty meeting, the principal announces cutbacks. As of the next semester, the plan is to gut the music program and lay off the beloved music teacher, played by Henry Winkler as a kind of holy fool -- so sweet and alive in his work that the injustice wakes Scott out of his stupor. Soon he has taken on the responsibility of raising money to save the music program, and that's when he starts cage fighting.
James seems to have slimmed a bit and trained in preparation for this movie, and the result is that he looks a little like Ben Affleck at times. The cage fight scenes, except a couple of big ones near the finish, aren't especially gripping. Neither is James' charm, though he's pleasant enough. The movie's attempt to balance silliness and seriousness is undermined by the flat-out absurdity of the premise, and considering how inevitable the story is, the movie feels long.
And yet, the pure mechanics of "Here Comes the Boom" land it in an enjoyable, if forgettable, space. When he gets into the ring and starts fighting, with the school orchestra on the line and every nice person in the world pulling for him, it's almost impossible not to care. I don't know why we care. Maybe it has something to do with this movie, in particular, but I suspect it has more to do with just something in the nature of movies, in general.
In either case, "Here Comes the Boom" benefits from it, and so, for a time, does the audience.
Mick LaSalle is The San Francisco Chronicle's movie critic.
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