Here Comes The Boom is the best movie comedian Kevin James has ever made. Hardly lavish praise, I know, but in previous adventures, like Paul Blart: Mall Cop, we chortled at lovable losers playing hero. In Here Comes The Boom, no pretense is necessary. As a teacher competing in UFC cage brawls to save his school’s music program, James proves a surprisingly valiant punching bag. And although this amiable underdog comedy supplies the requisite jabs, comical and otherwise, we’re not inspired to jeer at their recipient, but cheer for him instead.
Introduced as a one-time Teacher of the Year who has since grown disheartened, James’ Scott Voss is a tardy, unshaven sad sack sleeping through life; his Biology students waste away the period on their cell phones while he fecklessly hits on the sexy nurse (Selma Hayek). Across the hall, Marty the music teacher (Henry Winkler) is passionately conducting symphonies and reciting zestful aphorisms: “Without music, life is meaningless.” When budget cuts are cruelly dished out, it’s no surprise Marty gets the axe. They’re not going to cut Biology!
Even if director Frank Coraci isn’t exactly equipped to go toe-to-toe with today’s public school crisis, the movie still calls attention to its failing bureaucracy with unexpected lucidity. For a slapstick sports charmer starring the fat guy from Grown Ups, Boom profoundly, if reductively, blows the whistle on a grave injustice where tenured sloths and laid-off enthusiasts combine to shortchange eager students. As king of the sloths, Scott will have to take some hard knocks on his way to redemption.
With Marty in his corner holding the spit bucket, and a brawny Dutch trainer (Bas Rutten) screaming instructions ringside, Scott climbs into the Octagon; the prize money should be enough to cover his co-worker’s salary (you get paid even if you lose). At first, the pudgy gladiator survives only on his ability to withstand ferocious beatings, but his improvement as a fighter dovetails nicely with his improvement as a teacher, and, ultimately, as a man. Scott’s arch from complacency to action could symbolize the exigent rejuvenation of American schools.
Pinned down by excisable subplots, the story is somewhat scattered, and the matches themselves are engrossing if cartoonish—patty-cake next to last year’s Warrior. Regardless, Here Comes The Boom is optimistic about institutional as well as personal change; it lets James (who co-wrote) shed his jester persona and bring forth his inner white knight. In the inevitable championship bout, with Neil Diamond’s “Holly Holy” marking his epic entrance, we know that Scott, his students cheering, has somehow already won. And Kevin James, in his strongest role to date, shares that victory.