A loser, struggling in every aspect of his life, turns his fortunes around completely by taking up a little-known activity and achieving a moderate degree of success, as well as validation from those around him. It’s a pretty familiar story – from Dodgeball through to Nacho Libre and even School of Rock, we’ve seen this arc many times before, and it’s no surprise to encounter it again in Here Comes the Boom, a new film depicting the ascent of biology teacher Scott Voss (Kevin James) through the world of MMA in order to raise money for a failing music program for the kids he tutors.
The plot takes a little while to get going, instead introducing us to the cash-strapped school and the lethargic Voss, leaving us waiting for the promised sporting combat. This superficially holds some promise: Mixed Martial Arts is a discipline known for its brutality, and introducing a teacher into what is effectively cage fighting could raise some interesting questions. However, in the event Here Comes the Boom makes an effort to stick with the derivative – from the training montages to the vomit gag, this is pretty much like any other ‘loser learns to play sports’ movie. MMA scenes are stripped free of any realism, whilst the fact that a class of young teenage children are allowed ringside to watch their teacher fight is carefully ignored.
What really cripples the film, though, is that Voss is not a particularly likeable guy. Between brushing off his interested students, and exploiting an immigrant’s status in the US to get MMA training, I was left feeling distinctly cold towards the guy we’re supposed to be rooting for. Asking a woman out fifteen times after being repeatedly rejected is not romantic, it’s creepy – it’s difficult to see why school nurse Bella Flores (played by Salma Hayek) hasn’t sued for sexual harassment, and harder again to understand why she would ever even talk to this weirdo.
Other roles are little more than ciphers – Henry Winkler is suitably annoying as Marty, the music teacher whose cancelled program is the reason for the fundraising in the first place. Meanwhile, Bas Rutten (playing Niko, Voss’ MMA couch) almost ends up with the only characterisation in the whole movie after revealing his jealousy towards his pupil, but the entire scene lasts barely two minutes and is never mentioned again. Feel-good flicks often work best when effort is made to show the positive sides to the unlikely heroes through their interactions with others, but here there’s no opportunity: every other character here is nothing more than one-dimensional.
In fact, Here Comes the Boom comes across at best as incredibly confused. Whilst maybe it does try to promote a positive message of some kind, it’s difficult to work out exactly what it is (perhaps something about following your dreams?). Humour is intermittent, mostly visual but rarely amusing. Occasionally, scenes backfire in a fairly catastrophic way – one or two of the jokes seem little more than racist and make for uncomfortable viewing. In the end it’s moments like these that really define the film, beyond any moralising or fight scene; director Frank Coraci should have known better.