Director Jesse Dylan (“American Wedding”) and screenwriters Leo Benvenuti and Steve Rudnick (the brain trust behind “The Santa Clause”) don’t let anything like authenticity get in the way of a cheap laugh. Normally, it’s silly to complain when a movie suggests that a little league soccer team can trade players the way an adult professional team can, but when the film itself is only marginally amusing, it’s easier to notice glitches like that.Dylan takes a decent comedy actor (Will Farrell) and one of the best thespians to ever walk in front of a camera (Robert Duvall) and gives them surprisingly little to do. Using Benvenuiti and Rudnick’s mix-and-match clichés (it’s the screen equivalent of one of those magnetic poetry boards), he somehow forgets to put some humor in-between the crotch kicks.
My colleague Loey Lockerby has observed that the number of crotch kicks or punches in a comedy is inversely proportional to how funny it actually is. “Kicking and Screaming” ignores the “Lockerby Principle” and includes lots of groan inducing double entendres that come out of desperation passing for wit.
Farrell, playing a less amusing version of the manchild he so charmingly embodied in “Elf,” stars as Phil Weston, a vitamin salesman who has lived his entire life under the shadow of his boorishly alpha male father Buck (Duvall).
Buck’s “winning is everything” attitude led him to bench his own son, and now he refuses to let Phil’s son Sam (Dylan McLaughlin) play. He even trades Sam to the Tigers, the worst team in the league.
The Tigers are such a motley bunch that their own coach runs out on them, forcing the maladroit Phil to take the reins. Along the way, Phil gets help from Buck’s irate neighbor Mike Ditka (the former Chicago Bears coach himself) and gradually builds up a Tiger squad who can compete with Buck’s Gladiators.
It’s a little much to expect originality from Benvenuti and Rudnick, but at least these fellows could have though of more productive setups for Ferrell and Duvall. Watching Ferrell become an obnoxiously belligerent caffeine addict isn’t all that funny. Dylan and the screenwriters seem hard pressed to fill out their 95-minute running time. So they burden their stars with repetitive scenes that weren’t all that amusing in their original incarnation. Add some jokes about lesbians and immigrants that would be booed out of a middle school boys’ locker room, and you’ve got a painful evening on your hands.
That’s a shame because Farrell’s gangly physique and volcanic energy can be amusing in themselves. Curiously, most of the laughs in “Kicking and Screaming” come not from Farrell and Duvall, but from Ditka.
He may be simply being himself, but the former Bear appears to be having the time of his life poking fun at this tough as nails persona. Dylan seems to cut around him, but Ditka does himself so well that he can outstare Duvall and upstage any of the professional performers on the screen.Ditka almost does for “Kicking and Screaming” what he did for his former gridiron players, but “Kicking and Screaming” does for soccer what the Royals do for baseball.