Film Review: Here Comes the Boom

Kevin James delivers solid entertainment with a surprisingly wide-ranging appeal in this unlikely mash-up of high-school education and ultimate fighting.

Scott Voss (Kevin James) is a Boston high-school biology teacher on a mission. He’s been recently roused from his career apathy by the plight of fellow instructor Marty (Henry Winkler), soon to be a middle-aged dad, who’s about to lose his job due to the school cutting back on his music program. Picking up extra bucks teaching citizenship classes, Scott meets Niko (Bas Rutten), a retired Dutch MMA (mixed martial arts) fighter, and somehow Voss, with a background in wrestling, thinks he can do that brutal stuff as well.

Niko trains him with an eye to making money from local matches, in which Scott emerges a pummeled loser, but with a tasty check to contribute to that ailing music program. It all culminates—where else?—in Vegas, where Scott, through a fluke, finds himself pitted against scary killer champion Ken Dietrich (Krzysztof Soszynski) for one big-ass pot.

Kevin James’ films can often be cringe-worthy affairs, but Here Comes the Boom, which he co-wrote and produced, can be deemed a winner in terms of entertainment and crowd-pleasing satisfaction. There’s really no reason why it should work, given its ridiculous premise and the overtly violent MMA’s highly questionable status as a respectable sport—approaching, as it does, the sort of mayhem Nero might have enjoyed at the Coliseum. Yes, both hero and audience take quite a pounding, but it’s all been quite thrillingly and convincingly photographed and edited, and the heartwarming, if highly predictable, plot softens some of those blows.

James’ dedication gleams throughout this project, from the painful, scarily realistic beatings his handsome face receives, to his nicely underplayed “noble” moments. It’s the kind of thing that made Rudy work so well, and indeed so many older Frank Capra conceits. Director Frank Coraci cleverly gauges the sentimentality for maximum lump-in-the-throat effect, and tempers it with a lot of funny, confrontational comedy.

Many of the laughs stem from Rutten, who is a natural, appealing screen presence with crack comic timing: it’s funny seeing this hulking brute plying his day job, disconcertingly leading a disco aerobics class or volatile yoga session. Indeed, he has more chemistry with James than the star does with his assigned love interest, Salma Hayek, playing the school nurse who won’t give Scott a tumble. Their torturously chaste courtship, however, is nicely played, with her forever nixing his amorous attempts but slowly growing to admire his persistence in all things. It must be a relief for Hayek not to be the steaming hottie for a change, and her feisty, good-humored appearance is one of her strongest screen outings yet.

Gary Valentine, James’ real-life brother playing the same here, adds genial humor, as does the entire testosterone-laden crew of the MMA that Scott encounters. Charice (from “Glee”) plays a nerdy Filipino student of Scott’s who desperately wants to continue her music studies. This could easily have been a mawkish bit, but like so much else, it works, and when she and the school band surprisingly appear in Vegas to perform Scott’s unlikely theme song, “Holly Holy,” I defy anyone not to get a little misty.