Kicking & Screaming

Reviewed By Erik Childress
Posted 05/13/05 14:05:41

"Ron Burgundy vs. Bull Meechum. And Some Kids, Too."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

The short history of the cinema dictates that eventually the comic greats will find their way into a soccer movie. Itís happened to Rodney Dangerfield, Stephen Chow and, of course, Steve Guttenberg. Something in the genreís water must entice them to bring a toned-down version of their more popular adult humor to the family audiences for sports underdog pictures. Will Ferrell already gets high marks from his fans for Anchorman and Old School, but it was Elf that became his biggest hit to date. Kicking and Screaming, while flimsier than an outline template without words, allows Ferrell to do what he does so well and provides enough big laughs to possibly make this his second best success.

Ferrellís Phil Weston has had to live without his moment in the sporting world spotlight all his life. His dad (Robert Duvall) has reveled in one-upping him competitively his whole life, right down to bearing a child on the same day of Philís first born. Seriously, he makes The Great Santini look like Father Flanagan. Philís son benchwarms for granddad on his championship soccer team and when he gets traded, he steps up to coach the worst team in the league.

This script can pretty much write itself and has up to this point. If you stop reading right now and give it a shot, maybe you too can be a Hollywood screenwriter. Should only take a few hours. What you might not be able to conceive nor fathom would work in a million script conferences or casting sessions is that Mike Ditka could step in to give a rather laugh-lite film a needed shot in the arm. Any Chicagoan who saw his legendary rendition of the seventh-inning stretch at Wrigley Field knows that improv is hardly in the coachís game plan.

But Kicking and Screaming manages to take off from here, giving Iron Mike some classic bits of advice and finding him not nearly as stiff as in those Cialis ads. It takes Ditka and an addiction to coffee to find Phil turning into his father right quick; concerned with winning at all costs. The addition of a pair of Italian boys gives the Tigers the much needed Kelly Leak spark to mount a serious challenge. In fact, their entire game plan consists of getting them the balls and giving little else for the others to do but watch. Philís not the only one who practically forgets there was a son involved in all of this. Unlike the tradition of these films to give the archetypal losers and outsiders an integral piece at the attempts at humor, thereís virtually nothing for them but to identified as the odd-looking one, wormeater and the Asian kid who makes Short Round look like King Kong.

Thatís more to the filmís strength though since who wants to waste time on these little moppets when we could have Ferrell going through caffeine fits on-and-off the field and having the team arrive like they just stepped out of Braveheart. And I donít mean in the inspirational war paint and speeches milieu. Its overall irreverence canít match wits with The Bad News Bears, which is taken as far as they could before they had to tug the reins at the very end to deliver its ďwinning isnít everythingĒ afterthought. Sure there could have been another 20 minutes shoved in to please the story Gods, but why get insufferable with 110 when you can deliver in 90?

This is the second film in as many weeks that Iíve recommended despite the frivolity of its exercise. Like Jiminy Glick In Lalawood, the frequency and excess of the laughter quotient in Kicking and Screaming is enough to offer a passing recommendation. Which is something I couldnít give to either Old School or Elf. Ferrellís exuberance to go for the joke no matter how inane or silly calls to attention his knack for unpredictability and the ability to keep the laughs fresh and large, even navigating within a plot thatís been rehashed more than the chicken and his infamous road. Kicking and Screaming will keep Ferrellís fans in line and probably families in even longer ones.

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