Normally I have a little rule I try to stick by when I’m reviewing a film. If a film is clearly, expressly not intended for me, I don’t review it (provided a publication hasn’t specifically sent me there on assignment). It just seems unfair for a belt man to review suspenders, so to speak. I allow for the possibility of inaccurate or poor marketing campaigns, but sometimes, you can just tell. “Here Comes the Boom,” for instance, was directed by Frank Coraci of Click and The Zookeeper, was written by Allan Loeb, the worst screenwriter in Hollywood (or at least, the most prolific bad screenwriter1), and takes as its title a 2001 Christian Nu Metal song by POD. Considering I’ve often said that I feel the same shame about the American Nu Metal era that Germans must feel about the Third Reich, Here Comes the Boom might as well have had a buzzing, blinking neon disclaimer shouting “THIS FILM, VINCE MANCINI, IS NOT FOR YOU.”
And yet… I couldn’t help but feel a connection. I made an MMA-saves-the-rec-center joke when I was writing about Never Back Down four years ago, a post I finished with the line “GRR, RAP METAL’S STILL COOL.” And now, here was a movie, named after a rap metal song, that was literally about mixed martial arts saving the rec center2. We quickly dubbed it Paul Blart Presents: Mixed Martial Farts, and dedicated entire podcasts to fart-centric, “Paul Blart Presents” pitches. Perhaps most importantly, I’m a UFC fanatic, and the UFC is practically sponsoring Here Comes the Boom. Meaning that I’ve been subjected to at least 1200 commercials for it and an entire segment on The Ultimate Fighter where Dana White took the fighters (normally cooped up in a house together) on a field trip to a Here Comes the Boom screening, complete with confessionals afterwards where they all told me how good it was. So, maybe it’s not for me, but someone spent so much money trying to convince me that it was, I owed it to them to at least call their bluff.
Okay, so the movie. It’s exactly what you expect, because Allan Loeb movies are only unpredictable in the sense that they’re so predictable you start to second guess the outcome at some point, doubting that someone would actually have the balls to make a movie so utterly predictable, only to discover in the end that yes, someone does, and his name is Allan Loeb (still can’t decide if he’s a moron or a genius). Kevin James plays a biology teacher whose best friend, band teacher Henry Winkler, is in danger of losing his job when the school scraps the music program. James tries teaching a naturalization class at night school to raise money, and it’s there he meets Bas Rutten, who’s basically playing himself (a dutch former MMA champion). James goes to Rutten’s house one night to tutor him, and when he gets there, the gang’s all watching UFC on TV. In the fight, Brian Stann (playing Brian Stann) gets knocked out by Krzysztof Soszynski (playing Dan Dietrich, presumably for ease of spelling).
“He made $10,000 for that?!” asks Kevin James, apparently shocked by the idea that professional athletes make money for competition.
Along the way, there’s a sad Asian girl (“when I came here from Philippines, only language I knew was music!”) with a disapproving Asian father (“no time for music, you work in restaurant!”), a disapproving principal (“there’s no place in this school for rock n’ roll I mean MMA!”), and a still-single MILF of a school nurse played by Salma Hayek, who’s been chaste all her life, just waiting for some charming schlub to schlub along and fill her schlub hole. (By the way, that’s not even the right stereotype for Filipinos, everyone knows Filipinos are the party Asians4.)
If you’d never seen Bas Rutten before, you might be surprised by his manic charisma and coiled, imposing affability. He always looks like he’s about to punch you as a joke. He’s not an actor, but he has a nuanced genuineness that contrasts Kevin James’ increasingly-tired nice-guy act (I suspect there’s a real person in there, but he’s hidden by focus group pandering). The only other real surprise was that Kevin James pukes on an opponent (Mayhem Miller) instead of farts, as we’d initially predicted. The movie is basically a poor man’s School of Rock awkwardly sutured to an infomercial for the UFC. At one point, the Filipino girl helps Bas Rutten remember the length of a president’s term by setting the facts to Journey’s “Faithfully.” Because why wouldn’t an 11-year-old Filipino girl knows all the words to “Faithfully?” I don’t even know the words to “Faithfully” and I’m a 30-year-old fratboy.
I didn’t laugh much, but I’m mature enough to realize that people who don’t watch much comedy need comedy too. For them, Kevin James dancing around with pie on his face (literally, there is a food fight scene with him dancing around with pie on his face) is what Patton Oswalt is to me. FINE. Here’s the thing: as a UFC fan, Here Comes the Boom is sort of like watching a bad swing state ad for your candidate, the ones aimed at the strategically-important-but-idiotic Undecided Voter demo. I understand MMA still craves mainstream acceptance and I don’t begrudge them for that, nor do I begrudge the guy who needed a Kevin James movie to put it on his radar. Even so, it’s impossible for me to see Henry Winkler singing an acoustic version of a POD song in an airport as anything but an embarrassment. This is Dorky White Guy Raps redux, isn’t it? Christ, it’s awful.
Not only does it feel like a swing state ad, it’s a swing state ad that totally misrepresents its own candidate. At least Rudy aimed low. The payoff of Rudy working his ass off all year was playing one down of one play for Notre Dame. In Here Comes the Boom, we’re to believe that a 42-year-old biology teacher with no prior experience can work his way up to a UFC main card over the course of less than a school year. Inspirational, maybe, but kind of insulting to the people who actually compete, and counter to the idea of it being a legitimate sport, no? This movie isn’t for me, but who is it for3? 12-year-olds already know about MMA, and this is too corny even for 35-year-old dudes who listen to Journey. Foreigners, maybe? Foreigner?
Moreover, it’s Kevin James leading a group prayer before his fights, it’s the glorification of rap metal, it’s Kevin James telling a kid who’s drawing a dragon on his desk “sick dragon!” in what I can only assume was a veiled Affliction reference. It’s the vague sheen of “GRRR, JESUS DIDN’T TAP!” hanging over the entire enterprise. Look, as an Ivy League-educated ponce who lives in San Francisco, I realize I’m never going to be the average UFC fan. But I promise, intellectual MMA fans are out here (I mean look at Joe Rogan). We spend our whole lives engaged in bullsh*t arguments with no closure, feeling like we’re doing the right thing but never able to prove it. Do you know how f*cking refreshing it is to feel someone trying to dominate you have to tap out? To, in essence, tell you “I tried my hardest but you were better?” That’s the appeal of MMA. We go our whole lives looking for that feeling. Nate Quarry, trying to explain the feeling of knocking someone out to a group of doctors told them, “It’s incredible! You could take his shoes!”
To see MMA marketed once again to the Truck Nutz Energy Drink Crowd™ is, yes, predictable, but it’s still disappointing. It feels less like trying to sell MMA than trying to sell the stereotype of an MMA fan invented by marketing guys. GRRR! DRAGONS AND RAP ROCK AND CHRISTIANITY! I accept that there will always be lowbrow movies and that’s fine. It’s the lowbrow movies made by people smart enough to know the difference trying to sell them to people who don’t. That’s kind of weird and creepy.
1. Who also wrote a Miley Cyrus vehicle entitled “I’m Like, Sooo Undercover.”
2. Okay, so it’s technically the music department, but pretty close.
4. I believe comedian Ali Wong coined this term, but I could be mistaken.
Follow Vince on Twitter.