Here Comes the Boom

The thing about the boom is that it will come whether you’re ready for it or not. The boom follows no schedule, obeys no law but the law of the boom. We would be prudent, therefore, to heed such warnings of imminent boom-coming as we are given, including the one contained in this new film, “Seven Psychopaths.” Er, no, “Here Comes the Boom.”

This is the one where Kevin James plays a schoolteacher who becomes a mixed martial arts fighter to raise money to save the music department, written by James and Allan Loeb (“The Dilemma”) and directed by frequent Adam Sandler collaborator Frank Coraci. What’s surprising is that, despite this description, the movie is NOT a hellish ordeal filled with jokes about fat guys falling down and MMA fighters farting in each other’s faces. It is instead a blandly agreeable feel-good trifle, more “Mr. Holland’s Opus” than “Paul Blart: Mall Cop,” with a few laughs and a general sense of good-naturedness. It isn’t worth seeking out, but it won’t do you any harm if you happen to stumble across it.

James plays Scott Voss, a once-promising but now lazy biology teacher at an ordinary — which is to say underfunded, understaffed — public high school. But he’s inspired by the music teacher, Marty Streb (good ol’ Henry Winkler), who still has passion for his work, and who will be devastated both personally and professionally if budget cuts force the cancellation of the music program. Scott declares at a faculty meeting that he’ll spearhead the effort to raise the necessary funds, partly because he’s a good guy at heart and partly because he wants to stick it to The Man (who in this case is the school’s officious principal, played by Greg Germann).

Naturally, the only way to come up with $48,000 between now and the end of the school year is to become an MMA fighter. This probably would have been your first thought, too. Scott was a champion wrestler in college, and still has a solid build 20 years later, so it isn’t completely implausible. He doesn’t even have to be very good: even the losers in MMA matches get paid. Encouraged by Marty and fellow teacher Bella Flores (Salma Hayek), Scott recruits an enthusiastic Dutch immigrant named Niko (real life MMA dude Bas Rutten) to train him.

From there, the plot proceeds as you’d expect it to, with training montages, comical mishaps at low-rent fights, opposition from crusty school administrators, seemingly devastating setbacks, and eventual (SPOILER) success. (I don’t want to give anything away, but just FYI, the movie does not end with the music program being shut down.) Kevin James, who has always been likable even when starring in mediocre films, has turned a much-needed corner here: he’s not playing “the fat guy” anymore. “Here Comes the Boom” doesn’t have a single joke about his weight. That could be because he’s not actually very fat — but he wasn’t very fat in “Grown Ups,” either, and that movie couldn’t shut up about it. Whatever the reason, I’m glad the Chris Farleyization process has been halted.

But while this is a quasi-inspirational, quasi-respectable, family-friendly dramatic comedy, it can’t entirely resist its lowbrow tendencies. For every worthwhile moment like Scott getting his teaching mojo back, there’s something dumb like Scott being overly concerned about what song plays when he enters the arena. (He favors P.O.D.’s 2002 alt-metal hit “Boom,” of course.) There’s a sincere subplot about the importance of music in kids’ lives, but there’s also a moronic one about Niko and others trying to become American citizens, with the accompanying “foreigners are funny because they misunderstand things!” jokes. Every time the film tries to crawl out of the pit it was conceived in, a Sandlerian tentacle reaches up and pulls it back.

It’s not enough to completely ruin it, though. Against all odds, and despite the other half-dozen lame story elements I could mention, the film wins points for being earnest and straightforward. It isn’t nearly as funny or inspiring as it wants to be, but it makes a legitimate effort — something that “Zookeeper,” which James and Coraci also made together — did not do. Furthermore, it helps us prepare ourselves for the inevitable day when, ready or not, the boom finally comes.

C+ (1 hr., 45 min.; PG, a little mild profanity, MMA violence.)

Originally published at Twitch.