Normally I would not see the latest from the esteemed filmmakers operating in the orbit of Adam Sandler. It’s hard to resent their success—they’re good at what they do and they appear to have fun with it—but it’s also hard to see how the lowbrow vomit comedies (vomedies?) for which they are known are supposed to appeal to people who have successfully passed grade eight. But a few months ago, I saw the trailer for Here Comes the Boom, the latest Kevin James movie, and it was hilarious. The scatology was dialled down to bearable levels, the physical comedy was ramped up, and the premise and tone were just too good to be true. Whether or not it turned out to be good, the movie demanded to be seen.
Well, it’s out now, and Here Comes the Boom is probably the funniest movie this year. Kevin James is Scott Voss, a bored, defeated biology teacher at a high school in a poor area of Boston. He makes friends with Marty (Henry Winkler), the school’s music teacher and the only person who seems capable of getting the students excited about anything. Marty is an eccentric. He conducts with a pencil, swinging his arms around in a grandiose parody of a 4/4 beat pattern. He is wildly enthusiastic about everything he does, and can’t understand why no one else feels the same. Such people make good music teachers.
Marty is one of Robertson Davies’s “cultured madmen”, the kind of teacher who is the most important influence in a student’s school career. The school’s orchestra is a motley collection of strings and brass, a massive woodwind section (including saxes) and piano (because why not?). Despite the group’s unusual makeup and battered instruments (bought at cut-rate prices and refurbished by Marty himself), he pulls the students together and makes them sound pretty good.
But the school is running out of money, and they are cutting extracurricular activities, including the music program. In order to save Marty’s job, they need $48000 by the end of the year. Scott, seeing all the good that Marty does for the students, tries to help Marty out by moonlighting, but his brother’s painting company is struggling and he can’t make enough money teaching citizenship classes to make a meaningful contribution. Through one of the students in his night class, Niko, a trainer at an upscale gym, Scott learns that UFC fighters can earn as much as $10000 a fight even if they lose. He cuts a deal with Niko to exchange civics lessons for fighting lessons, and makes his debut in an ultra-low-rent MMA promotion.
This is an inspired premise for a “save our school” movie. As far as the rest of the world is aware, this absurdist fantasy where the MMA-fighting teacher can honestly say he’s serving the students better than the school administration is not too far from what schooling is actually like in the US. I’ve seen those textbooks. The filmmakers touched a nerve at just the right moment, and they went for broke on the satire, speaking in complete earnest and holding nothing back.
Kevin James has a certain sloppy loveable charm, like a very restrained Jack Black. Henry Winkler does a perfect nebbishy band teacher—it’s hard to believe this man was once the Fonz. Several MMA fighters have bit parts as themselves or as characters, and they were good sports. The stunt fighting is stomach-twisting. Gary Valentine is funny as Scott’s many-childed brother, and Salma Hayek livens up a role that only exists so the movie can have a love interest and cheescake shots.
Adam Sandler movies (Here Comes was produced by his company, though his name does not appear in the credits; this belongs to the genre of “Adam Sandler movies” regardless of his actual involvement) are vulgar and often too disgusting to be worth the trouble. But they’ve always had a good heart, even at their stupidest. With Here Comes the Boom, they have surpassed themselves by hewing to their unique aesthetic while making a movie that is still watchable even outside the middle school classroom. Even, perhaps especially, if you don’t think you’ll like it, Here Comes the Boom comes highly recommended.