The title of this spectacularly unfunny Will Ferrell flick is an apt description of what I felt like doing when I learned I’d be watching it.
OK, I admit it — I don’t “get” Will Ferrell. Sure, Elf was a pleasant surprise, and Ferrell deserves a nod for tackling a more serious role in Woody Allen’s recent Melinda and Melinda. But otherwise, Ferrell is one of those comics who always seems to be screaming, “Hey! Look at me! I’m being funny!” The trailer for Kicking and Screaming promised this approach — wrapped in a kind of screwed-up hybrid of The Bad News Bears and Ladybugs — at its most virulent. Unfortunately, the film delivers exactly what it promises.
You can’t completely blame Ferrell, since the screenplay was written by Leo Benvenuti and Steve Rudnick (theologians assure us that these guys are slated for a few extra years in purgatory for writing the sequel to their own The Santa Clause). Has any movie besides Kicking and Screaming ever been this shamelessly predictable and shapeless at the same time?
The story line is simple. Phil Weston (Ferrell) has never been good enough (in an athletic sense) for his competitive father, Buck (played by Robert Duvall on testosterone overload). This problem comes to a head when Buck trades his own grandson, Sam (Dylan McLaughlin, Seeing Other People), to another kiddie soccer team (“Of course, I didn’t actually get anything for him”), because the kid has seemingly inherited Phil’s lack of athletic prowess. Predictably, the team — the Tigers — is the worst in the league. Just as predictably, Phil ends up having to coach this collection of by-the-book misfits.
Moving from predictable to improbable, no less than former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka (played by Mike Ditka) lives next door to Buck. And since Ditka lives to make Buck’s life “a living hell,” he’s easily convinced to help coach the Tigers as a chance to get at the elder Weston.
Will they whip the Tigers into a winning team? Will Phil turn into an obnoxious variation on his father as he becomes obsessed with winning? Will there be a big speech about it not being about winning or losing? Will there be a tug-at-the-heartstrings ending? Will Christmas land on December 25 this year?
Now, it’s possible to play a formula and make it work (see Monster-in-Law), but it takes more than Kicking and Screaming offers in order to do that. As if realizing that it’s all so predictable that there’s not enough material for a feature-length film, the screenplay keeps wandering off on tangents and running gags that serve no purpose other than to stretch the movie to 95 minutes.
There’s an unfunny bit with an obnoxious woman who takes up two parking spaces with her Hummer and brags about being environmentally uncaring. This might work if she ever got any kind of comeuppance, but that never happens. Similarly, an apparent gag about a soccer referee who insists he knows Phil from someplace (though not the place Phil insists) is set up but never followed up. It’s like jokes without punch lines.
Then there’s an entire subplot involving Phil’s sudden addiction to coffee. This eats up an inordinate amount of screen time to no end, other than it affords Ferrell a few opportunities to mug and be manic before the movie crawls to its sanctimoniously saccharine ending.
Jesse Dylan shows exactly the same kind of flair he evidenced on his two previous films, How High and American Wedding, which is to say that everyone talks really loud while his camera just sits back and records it all.
Admitting my own lack of Ferrellism, I freely admit that there may be an audience for this movie. But it wasn’t the one I saw Kicking and Screaming with, which included a cranky toddler who seemed to object to being there (the boy has the makings of a critic) and people who took cell-phone calls. Normally, I object to these irritants on principle; but in this case, I understood their hunger for a diversion. Indeed, about the only thing I didn’t hear during the viewing was laughter. Rated PG for thematic elements, language and some crude humor.
— reviewed by Ken Hanke