Outside of substituting mixed martial arts for boxing and adding an opposites attract romance, Here Comes The Boom really doesn’t do very much that’s new. And yet, it works!
When his high school’s budget forced the cutting of its music program, Scott Voss (Kevin James) – a former teacher of the year now running on autopilot – decides to try to help out by raising the funds. He takes on a second job, preparing immigrants for their citizenship exams, but it doesn’t help much, financially. One of the class, Niko (Bas Rutten), asks Voss to tutor him and – thanks to Niko’s love of MMA – discovers a possible route to saving the music program: even MMA losers make good money!
In return for his tutoring, he persuades Niko to train him and enlists the aid of his school’s music teacher, Marty Streb (Henry Winkler). He also uses his efforts to help the kids in the music class (including a quiet Asian girl, played by Charice) to try to get a date with the school secretary, Bella Flores (Salma Hayek).
The script – by James, Rock Reuben and Alan Loeb – throws a few wrinkles into a movie which goes exactly where we think it’s going. The character of Niko, with his MMA background and day job at a gym (where he has classes in spinning and ‘disco MMA’), is a delightful change from the grizzled trainers we usually get (like Burgess Meredith in Rocky). His energy and sheer enthusiasm lift every scene he’s in.
The film builds to the expected Big Fight – though it’s an undercard fight in the UFC instead of a championship bout – with events transpiring to make it necessary that Voss wins (against an opponent whose ominous nickname is The Executioner). The fight sequences are all pretty well choreographed – and the UFC’s Joe Rogen adds to the film’s verisimilitude by appearing as himself.
The film underscores its rah-rah underdog themes with both the class of immigrants Voss tries to teach and the plight of Voss’ brother, Eric (Gary Valentine), who is married with eight kids and definitely not following his bliss.
Directed by Frank Coraci, who is responsible for some Adam Sandler’s actual good movies (The Wedding Singer, Click), Here Comes The Boom is well enough paced that it feels shorter than its 105 minutes and mixes its various arcs with much better than anticipated aplomb.
As Voss, James has never been better at playing a good-hearted Everyman transforming into a somebody for all the right reasons. Winkler adds both dramatic heft and unexpected moments of puckish humor – and milks one of the movie’s genuinely unexpected twists beautifully.
Greg Germann – the officious prick of principal); Charice – as Malia, the student who most would miss the music program; Reggie Lee (Grimm) – as Malia’s restaurant-owner father, and Krysztof Sosnynski – as Ken ‘The Executioner’ Dietrich, all do exactly what is needed to add some depth to what is a surprisingly effective variation on the inspirational underdog movie.
Here Comes The Boom is lightweight, but it’s also a lot of fun.
Final Grade: B+
Photos courtesy of Columbia Pictures