Let’s start with the name: “Here Comes the Boom.” It manages to be both awkward and utterly forgettable. I had already forgotten it by the time the credits rolled on this film, in which Kevin James, Salma Hayek and Henry Winkler used every bit of their acting ability to keep straight faces. I swear I saw smirks on the faces of some of the supporting characters, such as the reptilian school principal played by Greg Germann and the wall-of-muscle former fighter Niko, played by UFC Heavyweight champ Bas Rutten.
The plot is this: A Boston high school where Scott Voss (James) minds a class during biology – he’s not so big on the actual teaching – is mired in apathy and despair on both sides of the teachers’ desks. The exception is the music room, where Marty Streb (a silver-maned Winkler, played with a nice mix of befuddlement and confusion) lifts their spirits as he teaches them to harmonize. Winkler has just learned that his 48-year-old wife is pregnant when, in an unrealistic meeting with teachers, the cold-blooded principal announces that the music program will be cut and Streb will be fired.
Voss, a chunky but solid guy who was a college wrestler 20 years earlier, evokes John Belushi in “Animal House” as he stands up for his co-worker. He’ll raise the $48,000 to save Streb’s job – alone, if necessary. Teaching citizenship classes to a wacky group of immigrants is high on laughs but low on dinero. Tutoring Niko, the bullet-headed hulk, Voss learns that even losing mixed-martial arts fighters can make thousands on a fight. All he has to do is lose.
Well, hey. It’s every bit as likely as the smoldering Hayek as a single school nurse who is sort of interested in this schlubby biology teacher, right?
This is where the movie takes on a Rocky-esque vibe. There’s even a live chicken, though it’s not being chased around a coop. As Voss continues to fight, his opponents get more freakish-looking, culminating in a green-haired, translucent-skinned fighter with a shamrock on his trunks. He’s Ivan Drago, except with more tats and a leer. And then, somewhat miraculously (and, like the other bouts, in a way that is never fully explained), Voss begins to win.
The cage matches employ well-known moves and attacks (the Superman punch, the arm bar), but the action is far from graphic. Even in his final fight, where circumstances have conspired to make this an all-or-nothing bout, there is only some blood picturesquely splashed here and there.
Despite Voss’ dedicated training for the final big bout in the Octagon at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, he looks the same entering that ring as he did when we first saw him. He’s no Christian Bale. His opponent here is Ken “The Executioner” Dietrich, played by real-life fighter Krzysztof Soszynski, who looks like he could tear Voss’ heart out with his teeth. Does a good guy have a chance? I don’t know, what do you think?
Watch for James’ real-life brother, Gary Valentine – their family name was Knipfing, so can you blame them for changing it? – playing his brother Eric. Eric is a frustrated chef trapped in the body of a house painter with a snappish wife and a pile of kids. The singer Charice makes an impact as a talented girl who shows Voss’ impact on the students.
There are not as many laughs as you might expect in a comedy with James, and one of the funniest moments involves a group of guys and an enormous cheesecake topped with cherries. But no parts really drag, either.
It’s actually kind of fun to see Winkler and Hayek act silly, and James show his sensitive side while somehow, improbably, saving the day, not only for the music program but for the entire school.
3 stars
Starring: Kevin James, Henry Winkler, Salma Hayek
Director: Frank Coraci
Running time: 105 minutes
Rating: PG-13 for sports violence, rude humor and language.
The Lowdown: A 42-year-old high school biology teacher becomes a mixed-martial arts fighter to raise money to save the school’s music program.