In the past few years, little league sports have become a cutthroat operation. Instead of kids just having fun and playing games on a field, they are berated for bad plays as their parents stand on the sidelines cursing at referees, or knocking over Gatorade stands in fits of rage. Joy has been removed from children’s sporting events, and even movies on the subject are more out to make you squirm than chuckle.
Kicking & Screaming is the latest film to exploit the highly competitive world of juvenile sports. Phil Weston (Will Ferrell) is a blue-collar family man unable to impress his aggressive father, Buck (Robert Duvall), who performs a variation of his role in The Great Santini. Phil fails to fulfill his father’s vision of him as a star athlete, clumsily tripping over hurdles and wiping out in the dirt. In time, they both marry younger, more attractive wives, and have sons on the same day. “Mine is a just a little bit bigger”, Buck points out in the nursery, in his typically haughty manner.
Their distasteful dynamic expands onto the soccer field, where their sons both play in the same division. After Buck, head coach of The Gladiators, consistently benches his grandson Sam (Dylan McLaughlin) for insufficient talents, he trades him to The Tigers—the lamest team in the league. At first appearance, the kids are digging in the dirt, pretending to be impregnated with soccer balls, and eating slimy worms. Determined to defend his son and beat his father once and for all, Phil decides to coach the team of incompetents in an effort to lead them to victory against The Gladiators. What follows are a plethora of pathetic jokes, mutant-looking children, and every sports cliché in the book.
The beloved days of The Godfather and Apocalypse Now have drifted into the shadows as Duvall joins the Robert DeNiro career direction of “take whatever crap you get offered”. Even former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka is likely to watch the movie and wonder what he was thinking. There are so many sports movies with their paint-by-numbers premises and conclusions, that the genre really doesn’t need any more generic additions. It’s the equivalent of remaking a classic movie, and doing it the exact same way or even making it worse. Why bother?
There is a strong misconception by movie studios that sticking a funny comedian into a boring movie with humorless scenes will cause the audience to erupt in laughter. Will Ferrell is undeniably amusing, but even he can’t keep this dud from sinking. There is a part of the film where he becomes addicted to coffee, in order to stay alert and be a more productive coach. The last thing on the planet that someone as hyper as Ferrell needs is a constant dose of caffeine pumped into his bloodstream. I enjoyed his work in the film Melinda and Melinda when he was a toned down version of himself, expressing dimensions other than ‘bumbling oaf’. But in Kicking & Screaming he is in your face and constantly “on”, like Jim Carrey or Robin Williams in their most irritating moments.
Kicking & Screaming manages to be as boring and repetitive as the sport of soccer itself, a tough feat to accomplish. Every scene embraces an embarrassing amount of lowbrow humor. For example, men getting hit in the balls with balls (how darn clever), airbags hit people in the faces for laughs, ‘fresh meat’ analogies are used to describe beautiful women, and there’s even a choreographed line-dance segment in front of the goalie net. There’s a crucial scene where Ferrell says neutral things like, “The coach hasn’t arrived yet” and then watches as people break out in laughter. Scratching his head, he questions, “Why is that funny?” Enough said.