By Steve Persall
Times Movie Critic
Here Comes the Boom stars Kevin James, fitter but no funnier, as a biology teacher moonlighting as a mixed martial arts fighter to save his school's music program. It's the combination of Warrior and Mr. Holland's Opus nobody asked for, but here it comes anyway, landing with a thump.
James plays nice guy Scott Voss, who used to be a good teacher but nowadays wastes class time reading the sports pages. The only motivation Scott displays at work is bugging school nurse Bella Flores (Salma Hayek) to go out on a date. One day he's inspired by hearing the school band performing, led by kindly old Marty Streb (Henry Winkler), and a connect-the-dots crusade is born.
Financially strapped, the principal (Greg Germann, boo, hiss) announces the end of Marty's music program and its $46,000 budget. This can't happen, Scott declares. Since there is apparently no other way to raise $46,000, he'll learn to be an MMA fighter, just to collect enough loser purses and save the band. I'm certain there are people who can't imagine how this movie will end, and that's depressing.
Director Frank Coraci, along with James a profiting disciple of Adam Sandler, again shows a nice touch with underwhelming material. Here Comes the Boom is never annoyingly bad, just sporadically entertaining. There are some fine wacky moments provided by MMA star Bas Rutten as Scott's trainer and night school student, and while Winkler's eager sweetness is initially off-putting, it grows on you.
Playing a professional athlete takes away much of James' comedy shtick. Since he's asked to be in better shape and coordinated, fat-guy pratfalls are limited to a failed basketball dunk and assorted, unfunny takedowns in the ring. MMA rules prohibit blows to the groin, so that sure-fire gag is out the window. Affable blandness can take this performance only so far.
Getting his brain rattled pushes Scott into a Dead Poets Society-style epiphany, inspires a gifted student (Glee songbird Charice) and turns an unlikely Neil Diamond ditty into a battle anthem. It's all harmless, if not entirely fun.
Steve Persall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365.