Here Comes the Boom (PG) ★★

Review Date: October 11th, 2012

Kevin James seems like an essentially likable guy, a quality that's been the cornerstone of his career. A few years ago, he halfheartedly tried to break out of the King of Queens schlub-with-hot-wife mold in Ron Howard's The Dilemma with poor results. His latest, Here Comes the Boom, feels like James' second attempt to quit that Queens pigeonholing.

James plays Scott Voss, a surly 42-year-old biology teacher who rides a motorcycle to school and is always butting heads with the principal, mostly because he's a crappy teacher. He was Teacher of the Year 10 years ago, but now he barely deigns to look up from the sports page during class to answer his best student's question. On the other hand, Marty (Henry Winkler) is the kind of music teacher who buys old instruments to fix up for his less fortunate students. School budget cuts mean that Marty and his program will be the first to go, so Scott figures that if they raise $48K, they'll save Marty's job and the program. (It also bears mentioning that Marty really needs his job because he just found out his wife is pregnant.) After a convoluted series of events, Scott decides MMA fighting is the best way to raise that money, because even if you lose, you still get a lot of dough. (You also get the crap kicked out of you, but hey, he wrestled in college… 20 years ago.)

Along the way, Scott's enthusiasm for teaching and life itself is invigorated by regularly getting his butt handed to him by slick-muscled monsters in rickety fighting rings. His joie de vivre is infectious; it even gets his sneering students involved in biology! And it might win over the hot nurse at school, Bella, who spends most of the movie gently rebuffing his dogged advances. (Bella is played by Salma Hayek, because you knew there was going to be an extraordinarily beautiful woman to be James's love interest, right?)

Almost every joke in Boom falls flat, even though some of them would read funny on paper. Watching Henry Winkler try to pump up an MMA audience for Kevin James is tantamount to watching Fonzie waterski over a shark for 105 minutes straight. As for James, his rhythm and delivery is attuned to sitcom writing, where you have to cram in your epiphanies between commercials and there's an accented pause after every throwaway one-liner. When we first see Scott zipping through the streets on his motorcycle, I had hope that maybe this would be a different sort of role for James, who we root for because of his big brown Labrador eyes, but there's not much to Scott or his adventures that demands attention.

Bas Rutten plays Niko, a former MMA fighter from Holland that Scott teaches in a citizenship class that trains Scott for his fights. Rutten, who is actually a former MMA fighter from Holland, seems to be having fun as a freaky gym trainer who teaches everything from yoga to spin class. He's got a glint in his eye that makes me want to see him onscreen with Udo Kier in a Lars von Trier movie. After a while, though, even Rutten's manic performance begins to grate.

Boom is full of the laziest sort of writing, where Scott's best student Malia (Charice) is an Asian immigrant who learned to speak English through music and that's why music programs and teachers like Marty are so important and worth all the sprains, dislocated shoulders, and projectile vomiting. Every moment that will figure into the story later, like the look on Bella's face when she sees Scott dancing jauntily on his desk to entertain his science students, lands with a thud. There's not a whole lot to say about director Frank Coraci's work here; the sports scenes are serviceable, but everything else is fairly flat and static.

Boom is a bizarre hybrid of the MMA-flavored family drama Warrior and every high school teacher movie ever made, from Mr. Holland's Opus and Dead Poets Society to last month's Won't Back Down. The lack of any sort of developed family dynamics or fleshed-out characters makes it impossible to connect with Boom on the same level as viewers did with Warrior, and the MMA fight scenes aren't nearly beefy enough to make up for what the movie lacks in humor, subtlety, realism, or authenticity. rated this film 2 stars.