Kevin James is so gosh-darned likable that he can make up for a lot of sub-par material, but not even he can make this tiresome effort work. James co-wrote the story, an attempted feel-good saga of a lost-mojo high school science teacher who finds his passion when the school’s music budget is cut and he decides to raise the money to save it by losing a series of mixed martial arts fights, inspiring everyone around him and winning the love of the school nurse. But the movie itself comes nowhere near mojo. It taps out right from the start and the promised Boom never arrives.
James plays Scott, who is as unenthusiastic about his students as the texting teacher in the recent “Won’t Back Down.” He does not do much other than hit on School Nurse Flores (Selma Hayek), who has as little interest in him as he as in his job, his self-respect, or his future. But he takes pity on the sweet-natured music teacher Marty Streb (Henry Winkler), who loves teaching, because budget cuts eliminate the music program just as Marty’s wife, defying the odds, becomes pregnant in her late 40’s. Scott promises to help. He takes on another job, teaching immigrants how to pass their citizenship tests, which leads to a painful scene of condescending ethnic humor. People from other countries don’t speak good English! Alert the media!
One of those students is Niko (real-life MMA star Bas Rutten, a James regular), an exercise instructor and MMA coach. Scott finds out how much money can be made by losing MMA matches and decides that since he was a college wrestler, he is “good enough to lose.” Cue the training montage and the beat-down montage. And a limply staged and random food fight. And the mojo montage, as everyone is inspired by this very uninspiring underdog story. They could have included a montage of me looking at my watch. It would last as long and be almost as exciting.
I did enjoy the use of Neil Diamond as Scott’s entrance music and Ruten has some rough charm. But Scott’s attempts to make a connection between stagnant cells and the dispiriting state of schools where teachers “can’t speed up the good ones or slow down for the other ones” falls flat because the film’s own lack of energy feels pretty stagnant itself. Boom, you say? More like a sigh.
Parents should know that this film has extended and sometimes intense “action-style” mixed martial arts violence, with no blood or graphic injuries except a dislocated shoulder but a lot of beating up and getting beaten up. It also has some language, some crude humor (barfing, crotch hit, jokes about fertility of an older woman and about cross-dressing), an AA meeting, and some ethnic humor.
Family discussion: What does “good enough to lose” mean? How did Scott’s experiences as a fighter change the way he thought about teaching? How can someone be jealous of someone else’s passion?
If you like this, try: Kevin James’ “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” or a more dramatic film about MMA fighters, “Warrior”