Review: ‘Here Comes the Boom,’ starring Kevin James and Salma Hayek

I’ll be real honest and upfront and admit this before I even get my review in gear: I expected to hate Here Comes the Boom. I’m not a huge fan of Kevin James, especially because it seems like his chubby everyman act is just as tired as Adam Sandler’s overgrown teenager bit. Another movie about mixed martial arts and the UFC, Warrior, came out last year and wasn’t that amazing. And how was this movie going to effectively tie together MMA and arts education, anyway? Are those two things even compatible? 

Well, truth be told, I’m kind of a jerk, because Here Comes the Boom is actually not so terrible! It’s not great or classic or that imaginative by any means, but I did — and I counted — genuinely laugh between six to eight times during the 105-minute runtime. That’s a lot for me! Well, a lot more than I expected from a movie where I’m supposed to believe James as a successful MMA fighter, anyway.

Here Comes the Boom is directed by Frank Coraci (who also directed 2011’s Zookeeper, starring James, and the Sandler films TheWaterboy and The Wedding Singer) and written by James, Allan Loeb (who has also written the comedies Just Go With It, The Dilemma, The Switch, and some other things), and Rock Reuben (who also wrote Zookeeper and a bunch of episodes of The King of Queens, James’s old sitcom), so it’s pretty much an all-James affair. He’s surrounded himself here with people he’s comfortable with and trusts, so it’s not surprising that the movie actually kind of works, at least for James, anyway.

Anyway, on to the plot you will read and then immediately realize is your typical underdog story: James stars as Scott Voss, a biology teacher at a Wilkinson High School who once cared about his job — a decade ago, he was named teacher of the year — but has since become mired in the frustrations of bureaucracy and budget cuts. His constant lateness draws the ire of Principal Becher (Greg Germann), and the two don’t like each other much anyway, so when Becher announces that further cost-slashing will eliminate the music department, and tenure-track teacher Marty Streb’s (Henry Winkler) job, Voss gets fired up. He decides that he’ll raise the $48,000 needed to keep the program and Streb around, earning the respect and cooperation of his crush, school nurse Bella Flores (Salma Hayek). Success! Maybe they’ll get together! Smooches! 

But like, there’s still the problem of getting that money? Before the end of the school year? And Voss’s citizenship classes at night to hopeful immigrants aren’t really bringing in the big bucks. So, encouraged by citizenship student Niko (retired MMA fighter Bas Rutten, who is undeniably the best part of this movie), Voss decides to start entering fights on purpose, and losing them on purpose, to collect the prize money — that is, until he accidentally wins one bout. And there’s something inspired in Voss, some inkling to prove himself, that sees him, Niko, and Streb decide to start really going for these wins. And when the UFC comes calling, Voss knows he can’t screw up — both so Streb can keep his job, and Voss can keep his dignity.

This is all totally, exactly what you would expect, right? Disenfranchised, aimless middle-aged slacker finds his calling in an unlikely but masculine endeavor that inspires him to re-spark his passion in teaching, which draws the admiration of his friends and family and ups his attractiveness to women. Obviously, that is the expected cliché we’re dealing with here. But Here Comes the Boom is determined to be weird and odd and kind of charming, and so we become easily, readily enamored with Rutten as eccentric coach Niko, teaching classes like “disco street fighting” at a local gym to pay his bills while he trains Voss. He’s big and muscly and could clearly crush us all, and yet he’s purely lovable belting out Journey songs, or talking about how “yoga makes me emotional,” or grinning gleefully with Winkler. Rutten is, hands down, my new favorite person after seeing Here Comes the Boom

There are other things here that work besides Rutten, though. James, when he gets to play Voss as a good teacher again, is charismatic and appealing. Winkler has never been unlikeable, so he’s not here, either. And the film, for UFC fans, also offers a lot of appearances from those involved in the sport, like commentator Joe Rogan, referee Herb Dean, fighter Chael Sonnen, and coach Mark DellaGrotte. The fights aren’t as bloody as they should be, but it’s a PG-rated movie, so that’s not so surprising. What is nice, though, is that there’s a focus on the strength, athleticism, and commitment needed to succeed in MMA, instead of just portraying it as a barbaric bloodbath.

So no, Here Comes the Boom isn’t a sports classic. It’s not breaking any stereotypes (in fact, it reinforces them with the disappointing depiction of clueless immigrants taking citizenship classes) and it’s not tweaking with any formulas. But the way James, Rutten, and Winkler connect is engaging and amusing, and Here Comes the Boom is moderately successful on that chemistry alone. And if something can crack my cold, cold heart, that’s a victory.