As predictable as its premise is timeworn, Here Comes the Boom is a sweet little comedy that entertains largely on the broad back of a very likeable Kevin James and a strong supporting cast. Here, James gets to be the Everyman Hero — the kind who earns respect through his willingness to take a beating for a good cause — including the cause of making audiences laugh.
James (The King of Queens, Paul Blart: Mall Cop) is Scott Voss, a Boston high school biology teacher who’s grown jaded with the system since winning teacher of the year 10 years ago. When the school’s budget shortfall leads to the scheduled elimination of the music program, Scott resolves to save it and the job of its beloved, gray-haired music teacher, Marty (Henry Winkler), who — in a weak B subplot play for sympathy — is trying to come to terms with learning that his 48-year-old wife is pregnant. To raise money, Scott takes a job teaching night school to a class of immigrants seeking to earn their U.S. citizenship, but he soon realizes the checks he receives are just a drip in a much larger bucket. While watching an MMA match with one of his students, Scott is inspired to step on the mat when he learns that the loser of the contest earned 10 grand. Reluctantly, a former MMA fighter named Niko (an animated, very funny Bas Rutten, himself an ex-MMA fighter) agrees to train Scott, who thinks he might stand a chance because he wrestled in college.
Though it bears the dubious credit of being a Happy Madison production, Here Comes the Boom doesn’t fetishize its oddballs for laughs nearly as much as the typical Adam Sandler film. It also has a far more cohesive storyline and doesn’t strain for laughs at every turn. Director Frank Coraci (The Wedding Singer) allows the humor to emerge naturally and at times unexpectedly.
Winkler, who rose to fame playing the ultra-cool Fonz on ABC’s Happy Days in the ’70s, is warm, sympathetic and funny playing the nebbish music teacher who makes for an unlikely corner man. Salma Hayek is deadpan funny as the school nurse and James’s object of affection. She brings spunk and personality to a familiar kind of role, equally adept at the dry putdown and making a drunken tackle of James in his apartment after dinner.
James, who cowrote the screenplay, is the movie’s key advantage: His flawed but likeable central character grounds the film. Part of Scott’s appeal — and James's appeal — is that he’s a regular guy who bravely puts himself in some irregular circumstances. The kind of guy you believe could get the girl. Even when that girl is Salma Hayek.