Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 4, 2013)
While one might expect nothing but broad slapstick from a film in which Kevin James becomes a mixed martial artist, 2012’s Here Comes the Boom encompasses a more inspirational approach. Scott Voss (James) works as a science teacher at Wilkinson High School, a struggling, run-down facility. Scott used to be a lively, effective instructor, but now he just seems to be punching the clock.
Due to cutbacks, the school eliminates the music program – along with the job of veteran instructor Marty Streb (Henry Winkler). This upsets Scott, who suspects tyrannical Principal Betcher (Greg Germann) dumped the program to invalidate Marty’s tenure. In a moment of bravado, Scott promises to raise the $48,000 needed to preserve the music program.
Once the moment passes, however, Scott finds himself at a loss in terms of methods that will produce the necessary funds. Scott wants to bail but fellow teacher Bella Flores (Salma Hayek) – a babe he’s been hitting on for years – pushes him to follow through on attempts to save Marty’s job.
Eventually Scott comes up with an idea. A former college wrestler, Scott sees that amateur mixed martial artists can earn pretty good money. Despite his age and pudgy physique, Scott embarks on a quest to succeed in the ring and earn the needed money.
Like I alluded at the start, anyone who goes into Boom with expectations of a broad, wacky physical comedy can be forgiven. Bankrolled by Adam Sandler’s production company, one could anticipate slapstick nuttiness from a flick in which heavyset, middle-aged James gets involved in MMA.
And some of that sort of material does appear, such as when Scott vomits on a defeated opponent. Nonetheless, there’s not nearly as much as anticipated/feared, as the flick really does go more for the “underdog beats the odds” theme than the “fat slob gets the crap kicked out of him” notion. While events don’t get played for much realism, at least they lack the over the top nuttiness I figured we’d get.
To my additional surprise, this helps make Boom a fairly involving little underdog story. At no point does it threaten to do anything revolutionary or even especially creative, but it sets up its potentially trite tale in a way that allows us to embrace it.
I suspect James’ presence helps. He tones down the comedic shtick and embraces the schlubby side of Scott enough to make us root for him. In a lot of ways, he should be an unlikable character, as he clearly just coasts through life and barely tries to teach his kids, but James finds a slightly deeper vein and turns the lead into someone about whom we grow to care.
I also think James enjoys surprisingly good chemistry with Hayek. On paper, those two are a mismatch, but they interact in a way that makes their scenes hop to life. Usually the romantic segments of movies like this fizzle, but the scenes with Scott and Bella delight.
Director Frank Coraci also keeps things breezy and entertaining as we move toward a predictable, inevitable – and absurd – finale. In some ways, the climax is the weak link; while we know the film will set up an ending in which Scott must win despite long odds, Boom takes such a contrived route to that scenario that it threatens to lose the viewer.
However, it doesn’t; despite the ending’s ridiculousness, we still find ourselves invested in the characters and somewhat tense. Is the conclusion ever in doubt? Not really, but it’s a nervous ride to get there.
Boom fails to become a concise movie with a clear through-line, as Coraci can’t resist unnecessary detours. In particular, we spend too much time with trainer Niko’s citizenship lessons; he’s a secondary character on whom the film devotes too much time.
That issue notwithstanding, I still think Boom is a fun film. Nothing about it dazzles, and you’ve seen many, many movies in the same genre, but it still delivers likeable, rousing entertainment.