by Scott Bowles, USA TODAY
Here Comes the Boom telegraphs every punch in its arsenal, but when the comedy connects, it can deliver with funny force
Part Rocky, part Warrior (the 2011 mixed martial arts drama), Boom is a fight film for the family, a feel-good cage match that wears its tattooed heart on its rippling bicep.
Anchored by Kevin James, America's favorite lummox, Boom is a pleasant surprise, given that its director, Adam Sandler buddy Frank Coraci, was responsible for the loathsome comedy The Waterboy.
But where that film relied on Sandler's mindless mugging for laughs, Boom has a real story to tell, one that goes beyond sports. Though it has a tendency to scale the soapbox, Boom has a laudable message about the pursuit of excellence.
James, who wrote the script with Allan Loeb and Rock Rueben, plays Scott Voss, a burned-out biology teacher who once ruled the classroom but threw in the towel in the face of bureaucrats and budget cutbacks.
Scott has no problem slacking off as much as his students -- until he discovers the school plans to eliminate most extracurricular activities, including music. That means the job of loopy music teacher Marty Streb, played by Henry Winkler, is endangered. Winkler has become a savvy actor, unafraid of playing the antithesis of his leather-clad Fonzie persona in TV's Happy Days. Scott, a former wrestler, sets out to make the $47,000 needed to save Marty's job by competing in mixed martial arts battles.
If you don't know where Boom is headed after the first 10 minutes, welcome to your first movie. This is a picture meant to keep kids laughing, not build mystery or tension.Still, it gets a lot of things surprisingly right, starting with combat. Featuring real UFC fighters, including a tender turn by retired Dutch mixed martial arts fighter Bas Rutten, Boom displays sports savvy. The athletes are real, the punches well choreographed and Scott gets his rear appropriately kicked (literally) in his initial bouts.
More important, Boom steps outside the canvas. Scott becomes a protégé of Niko (Rutten), a student in the U.S. citizenship class that Scott teaches at night. The film suffers from too many side stories, but it does a nice job capturing the heavyweight battles of everyday folk: immigrants facing a citizenship test, fortysomethings becoming parents, athletes coping with ailing health.
There's no denying the visceral appeal of this production, which suggests that if you don't pursue your dreams, what's the point in having them? The themes are straight from after-school specials, and no plot turns will catch you off guard.
Still, the movie is a fighter with the heart to be a contender.