Kicking and Screaming
It's the Bad News Bears
template. Ever since that great film nailed Little League rivalries in
1976, every single movie about kid athletes -- and there have been a hell of
a lot of them -- have followed approximately the exact same plotline.
Unwilling adult has to coach
a kids team in baseball/football/soccer/hockey/basketball/dodge
ball/whatever else. When he takes over, the team is the dregs of their
league, made up of an ethnically diverse group of losers. There
is always a kid who is too fat, a few dorks, an African-American kid who
thinks he's a superstar but can't play, a really short kid and a kid who
barely speaks English. The team can't play the game in the slightest,
so instead they fight, fall and curse a lot. Then the coach finds a
couple of talented ringers to help the group win.
The new kids help the team
go from winless misfits to winners. Eventually, the team has to meet
up in the finals with the most talented, dominating team in the league -- a
team run by a win-at-all-costs tyrant of a coach. Of course the
lovable losers' coach gets caught up in winning and forgets all about
sportsmanship. He will do anything to guarantee victory and forgets
that he got into it in the beginning so all the kids can have fun. He
realizes that he has become everything he hates in the middle of the
championship and with the title on the line, he allows all the kids onto the
field, even the ones who can't play. Because it's not whether you win
or lose that's important, it's playing the game.
The Mighty Ducks, Little Giants, The Big Green, Ladybugs,
Rebound, Hardball and, of course, this year's remake of The Bad News
Bears. That's just scratching the surface, there are many, many
more.Story sound familiar?
That's because you've seen it over and over again in films like
Add Kicking and Screaming
to the list. This movie slavishly adheres to the well-worn
storyline. Even when it tries to toy with it a little, it does it in
safe and kind of silly ways. For example, in these films, the coach
often has a substance abuse problem of some sort, so here we see our coach
succumb to temptation and get buzzed out of his head on coffee!
The evil coach of the championship team is the hero's father! And,
with the one piece of original thought in the story, the coach gets an
assistant to give him a hand with the kids, and that assistant is former
Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka, who good-naturedly pokes at his image.
You are not going to get too
much that is really original in the sitcom-lite screenplay by small screen
vets Leo Benvenuti and Steve Rudnick (The Santa Clause, Space Jam),
so the movie all falls back on whether or not we like the stars.
This is particularly touchy
because this movie was planned as a starring vehicle for one of the most
"either-love-him-or-hate-him" comics out there. I have smart friends
with great senses of humor who insist to me that Will Ferrell is hysterical,
so I know someone out there likes him. I just don't get it though.
With the exception of Elf, everything I've seen Ferrell do has
floundered desperately for laughs that just aren't there. (This
includes all his years in Saturday Night Live.) The guy can't
act, so you don't take his problems seriously. He can't tell a joke.
All he really knows how to do is mug outrageously for the camera, fall down
over and over, scream a lot and do a gratuitous topless scene to show us his
doughy white chest.
His father is played by
Oscar-winner Robert Duvall. Wait a second. Let me let that sink
in. Will Ferrell's father is played by Robert Duvall. To add
insult to injury, his character is such a competitive creep, such an
asshole, that even if you wanted to like him, you couldn't.
Duvall does his best here,
but you get the feeling that he knows this is just a paycheck and he isn't
going to break a sweat here. This is particularly obvious in a painful
scene in which he beats down his son in tetherball, a weak and
aimless attempt to recall a powerful scene Duvall did in The Great
Santini. Is this supposed to be satire? Maybe, but it's not
really funny. Are we just supposed to notice the similarity and
appreciate the movie-makers' cleverness? Okay, noted, but there really
should be some reason to imitate the earlier, better movie. Just
because you can do something doesn't mean that you should do it.
The kids are kind of
precociously cute, and Ditka has some funny moments, but overall it's hard
to recommend this retread. Young kids and Ferrell fanatics may enjoy
Kicking and Screaming. The rest of us are better off watching
the original Bad News Bears.
PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: October 14, 2005.