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Kicking & Screaming

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 05/17/05 16:09:04

"Awful. Terrible. Horrible. Hilarious."
3 stars (Just Average)

Let’s be honest here. “Kicking & Screaming” is not a good movie. It is, in fact, a terrible movie. Badly made, cheaply written, bogged down with the clichés and undercooked characters that usually populate your average Adam Sandler comedy. It is directed by Jesse Dylan, whose previous films, “American Wedding” and “How High,” showcased his complete and utter lack of comic know-how. It is lumbering, it is weak, it is predictable. It is a bad, bad, bad, bad movie.

And yet…

The trick here is that we have Will Ferrell. And Will Ferrell is funny. Strike that - Will Ferrell is hilarious. And so just by letting Will Ferrell be Will Ferrell, the movie redeems itself. I laughed, too loudly in some spots, and sometimes when you’re reviewing a comedy, the only question you need to ask is, “is it funny?” Well, “Kicking & Screaming” is gawdawful stupid… but it is very funny indeed.

Ferrell is Phil Weston, a kindly sort who begins our tale by announcing, “I was born a baby.” Cute. Phil’s suffered his entire life by having an overbearing, overly competitive father, Buck (Robert Duvall, of all people). Buck’s the sort of dad that tells his kids that winning is everything, that sportsmanship is for pansies. And when Phil grew up to run a vitamin store instead of be some uber-jock, well, you can see where this is headed.

Buck coaches the Gladiators, the tough, undefeated team in the suburb’s soccer league. Phil’s son (Dylan McLaughlin) is on the team, but he gets cut, traded to the last-place Tigers, because that’s the kind of heartless jerk Buck is. And the Tigers, oh, how they need a new coach, and oh, how Phil steps in to rally this rag-tag team of nosepickers and delinquents.

It gets worse, people. Not content with being just another generic kids-sports comedy, ripping off moments from everything from “The Bad News Bears” to “Rebound” (which hasn’t even opened yet, but I’m sure it shares about seven or eight plot points), we get a whole misguided subplot in which Phil recruits two Italian boys, who are so good they put the Tigers in the championships (where, of course, they play the Gladiators), and who are so good the team’s only play becomes “pass to the Italians.”

Of course we get a scene near the end in which Phil learns the error of his ways. And of course kids will walk away with notions of playing to have fun, that winning isn’t everything. But the road to these points is so poorly handled that it’s pretty hard to forgive everything else. The movie takes so much joy in watching the team win that one could leave the film early thinking the message is “you can buy yourself a victory, and that’s better than actually working for anything.”

This, on top of the movie’s many other flaws - the Buck character goes from being evil to likable to evil to likable with no clear reason; there’s a lesbian couple (Laura Kightlinger and Rachael Harris) that exist merely for there to be a scene in which their gayness is mentioned for a laugh; a co-starring role from Mike Ditka (yes, I said Mike Ditka), playing himself, is, for the most part, annoying and useless; and let’s not even discuss the logic that has a three-foot grade schooler on the same team as five-foot-plus junior high kids - leaves the entire production as a massive embarrassment. This is the kind of weak comedy that usually features Rob Schneider, or maybe David Spade.

And yet. And yet…

Look. Will Ferrell is very, very funny. It’s a testament to his talent that he can take material this mind-bogglingly dumb and pull not just a few chuckles out of it, but a movieful of them. Even in scenes that contain not a lick of logic (a running gag that finds Phil becoming addicted to coffee, for example), Ferrell rescues them from comedy oblivion. A well-timed response, a nicely handled sight gag, a clever play on the dialogue. This movie becomes recommendable merely because of the existence of Ferrell.

There are some who will call this movie horrible. I will not disagree with them. And there are some who will call it hilarious. Again, I will not disagree. “Kicking & Screaming” is both of these things, and in the end, the hilarious wins out over the horrible. I laughed enough for me to tell you that it’s OK to see this one… even if it is one ginormous hunk of bad.

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