As a comic actor, Kevin James has at least one saving grace: Even in the stupidest movies, he’s surprisingly uningratiating, as if he acknowledges that he’s a human being first and an actor in need of a paycheck second.
That’s true even in a dismal piece of work like “Here Comes the Boom,” directed by Frank Coraci (“The Wedding Singer,” “The Waterboy”), a picture that’s otherwise pretty much devoid of anything but the most plastic charms. James plays Scott Voss, a high school biology teacher who once cared about his students but has since devolved into the kind of educator who gives the kids dumb busy work and then hides behind the sports page. We’re given no reason for Scott’s lack of enthusiasm, even though the movie’s opening shot shows us a “teacher of the year” plaque, circa 2002, hanging on his bedroom wall. Clearly, something has gone amiss, but the details supposedly don’t matter. Instead, we’re simply made to understand that Scott Voss is the male version of Carmen Diaz’s “Bad Teacher,” only a lot less good-looking.
Something has to jolt Scott out of his classroom ennui, and when he learns that the school’s beloved music teacher (played by Henry Winkler, wrapped in a series of cozy sweaters) is about to be dismissed thanks to lack of funding, the gears in Scott’s brain start turning – slowly, but hey, it’s a start. He decides to help the school raise the necessary funds to keep the music program going, choosing the easiest route imaginable for an out-of-shape teacher in his early 40s: He turns his hand to mixed martial arts, enlisting a Dutch immigrant named Niko (real-life martial-arts guy Bas Rutten) to help him train. Meanwhile, he also makes moo-moo eyes at the school nurse, and what a nurse! She’s played by Salma Hayek, whose bodacious, easy-going appeal is mostly wasted.
It doesn’t matter that you pretty much know what’s going to happen in “Here Comes the Boom” after watching the first ten minutes. In the right hands, a predictable movie can still be completely pleasurable. But “Here Comes the Boom” is simply inept. Plot developments are alluded to but never actually shown. (Scott gets his brother, an unhappy house painter, a job as a chef, but we never see it happen – the guy simply appears in a restaurant dressed in a chef’s outfit, all of his problems solved in the blink of an eye.) Scott gets his first big moment of fame when he vomits copious amounts of bad applesauce on an opponent and the clip shows up on YouTube. And the movie’s rousing finale comes complete with a chorus of schoolchildren singing Neil Diamond’s quasi-spiritual anthem “Holly Holy,” as Scott attempts to save the day (and the music program) by throwing himself into the ring with a mighty bruiser. Predictability is OK; laziness is something else.
It’s true that “Here Comes the Boom” – which was written by James and Allan Loeb -- could be much worse: It might have featured Adam Sandler or Seth Rogen or Jonah Hill; it might have been distressingly ironic and post-modern instead of simply old-fashioned in the cookie-cutter sense. And James at least comes off as an unassuming if bland presence – it’s really not that much fun to watch him getting tossed around the ring like a rag doll, or to see his face being smashed against a chain-link enclosure in a cage fight. Maybe that’s supposed to make his ultimate victory seem sweeter. Instead, the end of “Here Comes the Boom” is simply a relief. It’s nice that the hero goes to the mat for what he believes in. But he’s not the only thing that comes down with a thud.