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Kicking and Screaming (A PopEntertainment.com Movie Review)

Kicking and Screaming

KICKING AND SCREAMING (2005)

Starring Will Ferrell, Robert Duvall, Kate Walsh, Mike Ditka, Musetta Vander, Dylan McLaughlin, Josh Hutcherson, Steven Anthony Lawrence, Jeremy Bergman, Elliot Cho, Erik Walker, Dallas McKinney, Francesco Liotti, Alessandro Ruggiero, Sammy Fine, Timmy Deters, Dave Herman, Rachael Harris, Laura Kightlinger, Jim Turner, Julia Campbell, Phill Lewis and David Bowe.

Screenplay by Leo Benvenuti and Steve Rudnick.

Directed by Jesse Dylan.

Distributed by Universal Pictures. 95 minutes. Rated PG.

It’s the Bad News Bears template. Ever since that great film nailed Little League rivalries in 1976, every single movie about kid athletes – and there has been a hell of a lot of them – have followed approximately the exact same plotline.

Unwilling adult must coach a kids’ team in baseball/football/soccer/hockey/basketball/dodge ball/whatever else. When he takes over, the team is the dregs of their league, made up of an ethnically diverse group of losers. There is always a kid who is too fat, a few dorks, an African-American kid who thinks he’s a superstar but can’t play, a really short kid and a kid who barely speaks English. The team can’t play the game in the slightest, so instead they fight, fall and curse a lot. Then the coach finds a couple of talented ringers to help the group win.

The new kids help the team go from winless misfits to winners. Eventually, the team must meet up in the finals with the most talented, dominating team in the league – a team run by a win-at-all-costs tyrant of a coach. Of course, the lovable losers’ coach gets caught up in winning and forgets all about sportsmanship. He will do anything to guarantee victory and forgets that he got into it in the beginning so all the kids can have fun. He realizes that he has become everything he hates in the middle of the championship and with the title on the line, he allows all the kids onto the field, even the ones who can’t play. Because it’s not whether you win or lose that’s important, it’s playing the game.

Story sound familiar? That’s because you’ve seen it repeatedly in films like The Mighty Ducks, Little Giants, The Big Green, Ladybugs, Rebound, Hardball and, of course, this year’s remake of The Bad News Bears. That’s just scratching the surface, there are many, many more.

Add Kicking and Screaming to the list. This movie slavishly adheres to the well-worn storyline. Even when it tries to toy with it a little, it does it in safe and kind of silly ways. For example, in these films, the coach often has a substance abuse problem of some sort, so here we see our coach succumb to temptation and get buzzed out of his head on coffee! The evil coach of the championship team is the hero’s father! And, with the one piece of original thought in the story, the coach gets an assistant to give him a hand with the kids, and that assistant is former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka, who good-naturedly pokes at his image.

You are not going to get too much that is really original in the sitcom-lite screenplay by small screen vets Leo Benvenuti and Steve Rudnick (The Santa Clause, Space Jam), so the movie all falls back on whether or not we like the stars.

This is particularly touchy because this movie was planned as a starring vehicle for one of the most “either-love-him-or-hate-him” comics out there. I have smart friends with great senses of humor who insist to me that Will Ferrell is hysterical, so I know someone out there likes him. I just don’t get it though. With the exception of Elf, everything I’ve seen Ferrell do has floundered desperately for laughs that just aren’t there. (This includes all his years in Saturday Night Live.) The guy can’t act, so you don’t take his problems seriously. He can’t tell a joke. All he really knows how to do is mug outrageously for the camera, fall down over and over, scream a lot and do a gratuitous topless scene to show us his doughy white chest.

His father is played by Oscar-winner Robert Duvall. Wait a second. Let me let that sink in. Will Ferrell’s father is played by Robert Duvall. To add insult to injury, his character is such a competitive creep, such an asshole, that even if you wanted to like him, you couldn’t.

Duvall does his best here, but you get the feeling that he knows this is just a paycheck and he isn’t going to break a sweat here. This is particularly obvious in a painful scene in which he beats down his son in tetherball, a weak and aimless attempt to recall a powerful scene Duvall did in The Great Santini. Is this supposed to be satire? Maybe, but it’s not really funny. Are we just supposed to notice the similarity and appreciate the movie-makers’ cleverness? Okay, noted, but there really should be some reason to imitate the earlier, better movie. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean that you should do it.

The kids are kind of precociously cute, and Ditka has some funny moments, but overall, it’s hard to recommend this retread. Young kids and Ferrell fanatics may enjoy Kicking and Screaming. The rest of us are better off watching the original Bad News Bears. (5/05)

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2005 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: October 14, 2005.

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