“Kickin’ It Old Skool” is an excruciatingly lazy and unfunny film, but it didn’t have to be. It’s about a 12-year-old boy who goes into a coma in 1986 and wakes up 20 years later, still mired in ’80s pop culture and out of place in 21st-century society. That’s not a bad comedy premise, and we’ve derived many a laugh in other films from characters who were plopped into unfamiliar time periods. Why, if young Justin had avoided that coma for another three years, he’d have seen Napoleon Bonaparte rolling gutter balls in “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” to name just one example of this sort of thing being done right.
Where “Kickin’ It” goes wrong is in not doing anything interesting with its premise. Justin Schumacher (Jamie Kennedy), who wakes up in 2006 after a two-decade coma that was caused by a breakdancing accident, is a little confused by things like TiVo and the new MTV (“It’s just a bunch of girls talking and crying!”), but that’s about as far as it goes. A couple “gee, things sure are different from how they were in 1986” jokes, and not even very good ones.
Instead, the focus is on Justin’s childlike mind. He’s a 12-year-old in a grown-up’s body — except it’s the exaggerated, semi-retarded kind of 12-year-old that hack movie writers come up with. Think “Big,” if it had been made by people who got fired from a UPN sitcom.
I cite one example. Justin wanders through a mall’s toy store and, forgetting that he’s an adult and not a 12-year-old, strikes up a conversation with a boy whom he perceives as his peer. He asks what his favorite toys are, what games he likes to play, and so forth. To a passing security guard, Justin seems like a pedophile — a realistic misunderstanding, and therefore a potentially funny one. But because the joke was apparently too subtle and believable, the screenplay has Justin suggest the boy come over so they can play Army: “You could get in my foxhole, or I could get in your foxhole,” he says, a completely unnatural and contrived thing for a kid to say with regard to playing Army. That line would only be uttered by someone who was trying to sound dirty. The writers were hoping for double-entendre and got single-entendre instead.
Then the security guard runs and tackles Justin, not because there was any reason to tackle him — he wasn’t fleeing the scene; he didn’t even know he was being watched — but because, hey, it’s funny when people get knocked over!
(By the way, as soon as he comes home from the hospital, Justin starts wearing his 1986-era clothes, seemingly unaware that they are no longer fashionable. That makes sense at first blush, but then you realize: His clothes from 1986 wouldn’t still fit him. Did his parents buy him some adult-size ’80s garb in preparation for his homecoming? Or did the filmmakers just think it would be funny to have him wear laughably out-dated styles and then didn’t give it another thought?)
Justin fears his parents (Christopher McDonald and Debra Jo Rupp) will lose their house due to his massive medical bills, so he enters a reality TV show’s breakdancing contest where the grand prize is $100,000. For this he must reunite his 6th-grade dance crew, the Funky Fresh Boys. Luckily, they all still live in town, and they’re all still losers. Darnell (Miguel A. NuÃ±ez Jr.), the black guy, wants to be an inventor but can only come up with really stupid ideas like the Jewbik’s Cube (a Rubik’s Cube, only with Jewish-themed pictures instead of colors). Hector (Aris Alvarado), the Mexican guy, is an obese parking-enforcement officer. Aki (Bobby Lee), the Asian guy, is a nerdy office drone who’s terrified of women.
Oh, and wouldn’t you know it? One of the TV show’s choreographers is Jen (Maria Menounos), whom Justin had a huge crush on when they were 12! And also in the wouldn’t-you-know-it? department, the show’s emcee is Kip (Michael Rosenbaum), who was a big jerk in 6th grade, and is still a big jerk, and is engaged to Jen!
With all the factors in place for a solidly mediocre film — the broad, not very likable good guys, the predictable and dull romantic subplot, the dance contest that will provide the inevitable climax — first-time director Harvey Glazer sets out to make it as bad as it can possibly be.
He lets Jamie Kennedy shuffle through the whole film slack-jawed and dead-eyed, mumbling in a soft whine, as if still in a coma. Kennedy clearly believes he is one of those performers whose every move is funny, who can keep an audience in stitches simply by falling down or looking confused. He is mistaken. He plays Justin so uniformly dull-witted and idiotic that it’s impossible to identify with him, much less root for him as the film’s hero.
I get the impression Glazer and the three credited writers have included a lot of things only because they’ve seen them in other comedies and so they figured they’d be funny here. For example, Justin’s friends want to help him prepare for his date with Jen, so they make Hector put on a wig and brassiere for practice. Why Hector? Because he’s fat, and we’ve seen fat people be funny in other movies. Why does anyone need to put on a wig and brassiere at all? Because we’ve seen men cross-dressing in other movies, and it’s sometimes funny when they do. (See also: the previously mentioned details of randomly tackling someone, and Justin wearing out-dated clothes. Those things are always funny, right? RIGHT??)
Are there gags involving urine, farts, and vomit? But of course. Does the film show waaaaaay too much of the dance tournament, and then waaaaaay too much of the final dance-off between the Funky Fresh Boys and some kids? The answer to that question is also yes. Are there bizarre cameos from Emmanuel Lewis and David Hasselhoff that DON’T EVEN MAKE SENSE, even within the surreal context of the movie? Indeed.
There’s something else I want to mention in closing. I wasn’t sure where in the review to include this, but since we’re talking about a slapdash, amateurish movie, I figured I could probably just throw it in anywhere. No reason the review should be more coherently structured than the movie, right?
Anyway, it’s this: The first scene is set in 1986, leading up to Justin’s breakdancing injury. Within a 60-second period, kids use the words “radical,” “wicked,” “psyche,” “spaz,” and “bogus.” There’s a Rubik’s Cube lying on a table. A Garbage Pail Kid is proffered as a token of esteem. What’s funny (and not for the reasons intended) is that all these details are crammed in randomly, the slang forced awkwardly into the dialogue, the props thrown in carelessly. It reminds me of those picture puzzles where you have to see how many things you can find that start with the letter “T,” or whatever. (“How many things from the ’80s can you spot in this scene?”) The picture doesn’t have to make sense; its only purpose is to be a repository for all the stuff they came up with during the brainstorming session. And that about sums up the movie as a whole.
D- (1 hr., 48 min.; )