Here Comes the Boom
Kevin James gets pounded in this MMA-inspired comedy. But underneath all the flying feet and fists we see something else: a really strong, good heart.
A body in motion tends to stay in motion. A body at rest tends to stay at rest. And if you want to get a resting body moving again, you sometimes need to kick it in the rear.
That's a loose paraphrase of Isaac Newton's famous first and second laws of motion—the bedrock basis for modern-day physics and the inspiration behind countless spinning classes. It's the central premise behind, well, pert near everything—energy, mass, motion and why my couch never moseys into the dining room on its own. Things don't move unless someone or something makes them move—be it gravity or an explosion or that quick thwack on the posterior.
But not every "resting body" experiences that thwack quite so literally, or so viscerally, as Scott Voss does.
Schoolteacher Scott has been at rest for, oh, years now. He can barely muster the energy to stagger into his classroom these days, much less teach anybody anything. Sure, he remembers those days when he cared: The dude was Teacher of the Year a decade ago. But between the friction created by the system and his own dwindling enthusiasm, Scott began to slow, coasting and crawling to a near stop.
The guy could use a good kick.
He gets it during a school faculty meeting. Seems the school's in the red, and the only way to balance the budget is by hacking extracurriculars, including the music department headed by the still-moving and motivated Marty Streb. Marty loves his subject so much that his enthusiasm infects his students: Music moves him, and so it moves them. His classroom is a place of life in this mostly dormant school, and Scott—even though he's part of that dormancy—can't imagine life without Marty's music class down the hall.
And so propelled, Scott stands up and speaks up. He's finally in motion again. And in his effort to raise the money needed to save Marty's job, he'll receive enough kicks and hits and flying elbows to keep him moving for a good long while.
Scott's cash-flow solution is outlandish and just a wee bit desperate: He becomes a mixed martial arts competitor. And he certainly has no doubts that it'll be a painful, deeply humiliating experience. He knows that while he might've been a pretty good wrestler back in the day, "the day" was about 25 years ago, and the most he can reasonably hope for is to lose lucratively enough to save Marty's job. But while he may be taking one of the world's most dangerous part-time jobs, his aims are completely selfless.
That's a nifty little message right from the get-go, and it's really just the beginning of a near avalanche of onscreen positivity. We hear about the beauty of music, the importance of education, the pride of being an American. (Scott moonlights as a citizenship teacher—helping immigrants learn some core principles so that they can become U.S. citizens.) We learn that Marty buys old, broken musical instruments, fixes them and gives them to kids who wouldn't be able to afford them otherwise. We see Malia—one of Scott's brightest students—help train Niko (a Dutch immigrant and former MMA star) for his citizenship test, while Niko trains Scott for his fights.
Here Comes the Boom might've been called Here Comes Some Fantastic Life Lessons if the name wasn't such a guaranteed box office killjoy. Scott is practically reborn through this selfless commitment. And while we can take issue with the violence inherent in his cash-making scheme, we can't quibble with the heart behind it, or the heart he shows in pursuing it.
The principal screams at Scott to quit, telling him he's an embarrassment. Bella, the school nurse, worries for his safety. And well she should. Some nights he gets thrashed. And, quite frankly, the principal's right too. In the beginning Scott really does look like a fool. But he keeps at it—taking all comers, absorbing all the punishment and criticism, and persevering for what he believes is a higher cause.
"What are you teaching these kids if you go through with [this]?" Bella asks him before a particularly frightening fight. "What am I teaching them if I don't?" Scott says. Far from being an embarrassment, Scott becomes an inspiration to his students and a hero to his colleagues—not because of his talent, but his tenacity.
You'd not expect a lot of spiritual content in a Kevin James yukfest. But according to the star himself, John 15:13 actually underpins the whole movie.
"For there is no greater love than to lay down one's life for one's friends," James paraphrased in an interview with Plugged In. "That's essentially what this guy does. It's literally what this movie is about. We don't go around banging people over the head and preaching to them, but the message is certainly there, and it's by design."
Before a fight, Scott and his training team gather in a circle and pray. In the middle of teaching his citizenship class, he asks everyone to bow their heads while an AA group next door recites a prayer. There's a reference to Genesis 32, wherein Jacob wrestles with God. Just as Jacob earned God's respect that night, it's implied, Scott has earned the respect of his gym mates.
Elsewhere, Niko teaches a yoga class, and the room contains some objects suggesting Eastern spirituality.
Scott has a thing for Bella, and he frequently asks her to dinner. Their only "official" date culminates in Bella playfully attacking Scott—leaping on him (she straddles his middle) and eventually breaking a lamp. "It's the weirdest date ever," Scott says, and Bella, a little embarrassed, leaves. The couple eventually winds up kissing through a chain link fence.
A mild innuendo-infused joke Scott tells links fertility with a woman's looks. Marty mentions that the classical composer Maurice Ravel used to dress up like a woman.
Kevin James is a longtime fan of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (the most prestigious professional MMA organization), and that little fact—along with wholehearted buy-in from the UFC—makes this film feels viscerally, violently real.
That's bad news for those who believe MMA is too violent to accept or embrace. For others it'll feel not much different than a Rocky flick.
Scott gets absolutely hammered by his opponents. He's hit, kicked, elbowed, choked and thrown more times than I could really count—with the camera sometimes providing a first-person viewpoint. He's kicked unconscious. He's punched in the groin. He's pounded with such ferocity he can't find his way to his own corner—staggering and mumbling to himself as if drunk. So in an age where we're growing ever more aware of the lifelong damage done by concussions, the sight of Scott and/or his opponents knocked out cold can leave folks in the audience feeling a little woozy. The day after fights, Scott often bears the war wounds of experience—stitches, a butterfly bandage holding together a cut, a dislocated arm that Bella has to (painfully) pop back into place.
When Scott begins training, he practices kicking into a mattress held by Marty (to Marty's obvious discomfort). Once he gets a bit further into it, his training sessions can be almost as brutal as the fights. During one bargain-basement bout, the floor collapses, sending Scott rolling out of the octagon.
Scott, trying to dunk a basketball, cheats by using a trampoline. It still doesn't help him reach the basket, though, and he falls out of the camera's view to painfully hit the gym floor. We see a scene from a reality show called The World's Deadliest Car Chases.
Crude or Profane Language
Two uses each of "a‑‑" and "h‑‑‑." We hear a few derivations of swear words, including "freaking," "heck" and "jeez." God's name is misused a couple of times.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Characters drink wine and beer.
Other Negative Elements
After eating some bad applesauce, Scott throws up all over a beaten opponent—a moment captured and replayed on YouTube. Marty mentions that he urinates a lot.
When Malia tearfully says that her father is making her drop music to work at the family business, Scott says she shouldn't—jokingly adding that she should tell her father that her teacher won't let her. The father then accuses Scott of encouraging his daughter to be disobedient. (The two men later patch things up and become good friends.)
Scott takes credit for a dinner he didn't make (though Bella sees through his ruse). Eric (Scott's brother) has a bit of a messy family life. He and his wife hurl accusations back and forth, and they show some comically horrific parenting techniques. Someone embezzles money meant for the school. Scott and another teacher make fun of a guy's beard. We see and hear a few references to gambling.
Like I said, a body in motion tends to stay in motion. And we see a lot of bodies in motion here—bodies that seem intent on doing bodily harm to other bodies. Here Comes the Boom brings a lot of booming hits and kicks to the screen, and Kevin James realizes that that violence may turn some families off. But he hopes people will look past the MMA violence and uncover the story he's really trying to tell. He says, "The fighting in this movie is really just a metaphor for any obstacles that people have in their lives."
Scott does face loads of obstacles here—physical, mental, emotional, even spiritual in a way. He's at a low ebb in his life, as is almost everyone around him.
But then, after getting that swift kick, Scott digs up his moxie again—and converts it into motion. As he begins to move forward, he helps push all the folks around him into motion too. Marty's given new hope and encouragement. Eric finds a new job and a renewed commitment to the woman he married. Scott's pupils glean inspiration and life lessons from their teacher.
A little corny? Sure. But for James, "It's just good values. It's things we've gotten away from—helping other people in every aspect."
Click here to listen to our interview with Kevin James in episode #172 of the Official Plugged In Podcast. Hear him talk about Here Comes the Boom, mixed martial arts, and the film's expressions of faith.