Kicking & Screaming (2005) / Comedy
MPAA Rated: PG for language and crude humor
Running Time: 95 min.
Cast: Will Ferrell, Robert Duvall, Mike Ditka, Kate Walsh, Dylan McLaughlin, Musetta Vander, Josh Hutcherson, Stephen Anthony Lawrence, Jeremy Bergman, Elliott Cho, Erik Walker, Francesco Liotti, Alessandro Ruggiero
Director: Jesse Dylan
Screenplay: Leo Benvenuti, Steve Rudnick
They used to call the SNL comedians the “Not Ready for Prime Time Players” -- a tongue-in-cheek description as to why they were on late at night. However, I can’t help but think how appropriate the description is in seeing Will Ferrell (Melinda and Melinda, Anchorman), one of the best of the recent SNL players, completely at a loss as to how to create laughs where there are absolutely none to be found. It’s not completely his fault, as the script from Steve Rudnick and Leo Benvenuti (Space Jam, The Santa Clause 2) seems to be merely a set-up for a movie for an ad-libbing comedian to take over and make his own. Perhaps it’s the PG-rated, family friendly restriction that handcuffs Ferrell into not being able to generate laughs, or the fact that it’s hard for Ferrell to be funny when he isn’t portraying a highly exaggerated, off-the-wall character. Whatever the reason, the script is DOA, and no one on board, including the almost sure-fire Ferrell, is able to save it.
Ferrell plays vitamin salesman Phil Weston, your Average Joe father and husband who happens to have spent his entire life in his competitive father Buck’s (Duvall, Secondhand Lions) intimidatingshadow, and never living up to his standards. Complications arise when Buck, the coach of a youth league soccer team, ends up trading Phil’s benchwarmer son, Sam (McLaughlin), to the worst team in the league -- a team so bad that no one is willing to volunteer to coach it…except Phil. The first game as coach and Buck soundly wallops his son, so Phil decides he’s going to get even if it’s the last thing he does. Enlisting the help of neighbor and ex-football coach Mike Ditka, as well as a couple of Italian soccer whizzes, Phil tries his best to turn the team around in time to make the championship, and prove to his dad once and for all that he’s not a loser.
Fans of sports films, particularly of the juvenile variety, will automatically sniff out Kicking and Screaming as little more than a soccer-based version of The Bad News Bears. As such, the predictability factor is nearly all encompassing, so the best we can hope for are some decent laughs along the way. The on the field sports action is silly, but not really rife with comedic moments, so the makers of this film go off on a complete tangent to scrape up some laughs. For some reason, they need Ferrell to act manic and unhinged, so they contrive a side story where Phil gets hooked on coffee and is continuously on edge for the entire movie, easily irritable and prone to tantrums. This comedic angle is completely superfluous to the main themes of the story, and sad to say it, watching a father act cranky and throw fits at young children is about the last thing this film needs to drive home any saccharine family values.
It’s not a total waste. Duvall, a great actor, has fun in a part created strictly for laughs, while Mike Ditka, not a good actor at all, is also ingratiating making fun of his hard-as-nails coaching style. Ferrell tries his best to resuscitate this film back to life, and while he never succeeds, the attempt at least shows that he’s willing to do the best he can to save a stinker from collapse.
In the end, there is little that makes sense about Kicking & Screaming, and even less that makes for good humor. It’s a poor satire on youth league soccer (the writers obviously have no idea how these sorts of leagues work) and as a family comedy, there is even less footing in reality. All that we have are a bunch of angry fathers, irate mothers, bratty children, and lots and lots of gags involving males doubled over after getting a ball kicked into their crotch. Kicking & Screaming pushes forward the notion that to win, the boys need to play as a team, by stating the oft-used motivational line, “There is no “I” in “TEAM”. That is true, but there also is no “U” in “THEATER", and I guess that should say a lot about where “you” shouldn’t be.
©2005 Vince Leo