As tedious and forgettable as the film may be, I find I cannot completely dismiss Frank Coraci’s Here Comes The Boom, for the film’s heart is undoubtedly in the right place. This is not a good or inspired comedy, but unlike many of its similarly broad, Adam Sandler-produced peers, it is not soulless or vapid either. The film is actually built around an idea, a fairly universal and relatable philosophy about education: That when it comes to our children, we should fight hard every day to make sure they have every possible opportunity.
To drive this point home, the story operates around a grand metaphor, wherein protagonist Mr. Voss (Kevin James), a bored high school biology teacher, becomes an MMA fighter to raise enough money to fund the school’s endangered music program.
Therein lies the problem: While the film stresses over and over again how heroically symbolic Mr. Voss’ actions are, I am fairly confident no one involved in the production of Here Comes The Boom actually understands what a metaphor is. Saying one is going to ‘fight’ for their children or ‘fight’ for education is a metaphor, because you are not actually fighting, but using the phrase to connote intent to work hard and tirelessly towards a goal. But when Mr. Voss steps into the ring and starts having his face pounded in, or begins tirelessly pummeling his opponent, it’s no longer a metaphor. It’s just literal fighting, and at that point, all that’s ‘symbolized’ is that violence is, apparently, an easy answer to financial problems.
Or that using and abusing one’s body for spectatorship is a good solution when one falls on hard times. Take your pick. Either way, throwing oneself into America’s most dangerous (legal) fighting arena without any significant experience sets a pretty bad example, especially when one is ostensibly doing it for the good of impressionable teenagers. Mr. Voss, and the film, may mean well, but horribly abusing one’s body to get money is, I think we can all agree, a bad thing to do, and doing it for the ‘right’ reasons does not negate the truly terrible example Mr. Voss sets for his students and community.
It’s a shame, because as I said before, I do respect the film for wanting to tackle the issue of educational lethargy, even if it is a very surface-level analysis. America is far too passive about the importance of education and the vast difference good teaching can make on a young person’s life, and the film’s core message – that teachers and parents should work vigorously and enthusiastically for their students – is a very good one to build a story around. I just do not believe, for a single second, that MMA fighting has any place in that conversation, because violence severely muddles the morality and deeper meaning of the discussion. The decision to make the metaphor literal is a mistake, crippling the entire story and dragging both sides of the narrative – the education component and the MMA physical comedy component – down into unenjoyable territory.
The writing is not particularly accomplished in the first place – few of the jokes are cringe-worthy, but I found none of them to be truly funny or engaging – and Coraci’s flat direction is no more engaging than a high-budget network TV episode. The MMA fights are competently choreographed, but over-rely on implausibly brutal punch streams that scream too strongly of life-altering brain damage.
That being said, the characters and performances are largely appealing, and that keeps the film watchable at all times. Kevin James is very good here, as confident and charismatic as ever, and while I wish the man would one day find a better, more substantive vehicle for his talents, one can never accuse him of phoning in a performance. Similarly, Salma Hayek is likable and engaging even in an extremely thin ‘love interest’ part, and UFC champion-turned-actor Bas Rutten has a great deal of fun in the stock ‘trainer’ role. The biggest surprise is Henry Winkler, who actually turns in a great little performance as the school’s heartfelt music teacher; he is authentically warm and passionate in all the ways a good educator, and person, should be, and a real joy to watch.
The same cannot be said of Here Comes The Boom as the whole, even if it is slightly above average for this sort of comedy. I do not recommend the film, especially on a weekend where there are at least two other excellent new releases, but if one catches it while channel-surfing several years down the line, it may prove an acceptable way to kill time.