Kevin James’ greatest strength isn’t his willingness to fall down or his quick tongue; it’s his ability to be funny without ever seeming like a professional comedian. His natural sense of humor comes out like a series of jokes we might actually think up on a good day, which is why he’s particularly suited to playing a naturally funny everyman for us to laugh with. Unlike many of his former movies, Here Comes The Boom actually seems to understand this. It doesn’t make his fat guy the source of ridicule, it makes his kinda chubby guy a likable human being. It gives him agency and an understanding of what’s going on. It lets him be Kevin James, and Kevin James is really easy to root for.
Here, he plays Scott Voss, a forty-two-year-old former teacher of the year who has lost his will to do more than the bare minimum. He climbs in windows to keep his tardiness from being detected by the bosses and continually asks out the beautiful Bella (Salma Hayek) with the passion of a man who knows he’s already beaten. Apart from laziness, there is very little he does aggressively, at least until the powers that be announce they’re cutting the music program and laying off his buddy Marty (Henry Winkler).
Sensing an opportunity to help his friend, stick it to the principal, win over Bella and be a part of something he cares about, Scott impulsively announces he’ll raise the money to save the music, no matter what he has to do. Through a position teaching a citizenship class, he meets former MMA fighter Niko (Bas Rutten) and begins training in the art of losing fights without dying. Within a few months, he progresses to actually being competitive and puts himself in a position to take a real run at saving Marty’s job.
Obviously, this would never happen in real life. Voss would be knocked unconscious within seconds fighting most of these guys, but sometimes it’s better not to get caught up in such details. For every one glaring problem Here Comes The Boom has, it offers between one and a half and two positives. Voss might not look like a professional athlete, but James clearly worked his ass off to train for this role and throws a convincing punch. The plot might be a bit stupid and occasionally emotionally manipulative, but it’s also well paced by director Frank Coraci and steadily increases its momentum. Bella might be way too hot for Scott, but the movie makes her appear less glamorous and allows her to reject him numerous times. It might be two steps forward and one step back, but by the end, that process still puts it pretty far ahead, especially thanks to its range of strange and endearing characters.
Beyond James’ charismatic and likable Scott, Here Comes The Boom also benefits from Winkler’s applesauce-making, music-loving teacher Marty and from Rutten’s muscular spin class instructor who enjoys beating the hell out of people as much as he hates studying for his citizenship test. Hayek’s Bella is given some quirks of her own to spice up what could have been a thankless love interest role, and Scott’s brother Eric (Gary Valentine) probably deserves his own spin off movie based on how enjoyable watching him lie and yell at his wife is. These are all people we want to spend time with and see achieve, and that makes watching them find success rewarding and fun.
Here Comes The Boom isn’t going to be very many people’s favorite movie, but those who go in with an open mind will be surprised by how consistently they’ll smile. Someday, James is going to make a truly awesome film, and when that happens, we’ll look back and realize it has more similarities than differences to this.