Kicking & Screaming Review
By Shawn McKenzie 05/16/2005
Will Ferrell has proven that he can do a family comedy with 2003’s Elf, so it’s no shock that he is hilarious in Kicking & Screaming. While it managed to be funnier than Elf, there was just something about it that didn’t rise above perfect movie status.
All of his life, Phil Weston (Will Ferrell) has been in a competition with his dad Buck (Robert Duvall.) He felt like he was never good enough for his dad, especially in sports. He wasn’t very good at track-and-field, and when he met his wife Barbara (Kate Walsh), their son Sam (Dylan McLaughlin), was two ounces smaller than Buck’s son, Bucky (Josh Hutcherson.) Bucky is the product of Buck and his second wife Janice (Musetta Vander), a woman that he met at the A & P not long after divorcing Phil’s mother. Buck runs Buck’s Sports Town, a successful sporting goods store, and he really wants Phil to sell his store, a vitamin store called Phil’s Pills, and come work for him. This competitive nature has been passed on to Phil and Buck’s kids. Buck is now the coach of the Gladiators soccer team. The Gladiators have both Sam and Bucky on it (the boys are now both 10 years old by this time), but Sam isn’t very good, like his old man, so Buck trades Sam to the worst team in the league, the Tigers. The old coach of the Tigers, Mr. Benson, has mysteriously left town, so Phil decides to fill in so that Sam can get more playing time, which fuels his competitive nature once again. The Tigers are a horrible group of players, just as Buck had figured. Hunter (Jeremy Bergman) is a weird kid who eats worms. Ambrose Hanna (Erik Walker) is a huge kid who doesn’t look like he is ten years old. Connor Ryan (Dallas McKinney) is the goalie who has some eyesight problems. Byong Sun Hogan-Jones (Elliot Cho) is the shortest one on the team, and he is the adopted son of his two lesbian moms, Ann Hogan (Rachael Harris) and Donna Jones (Laura Kightlinger.) Mark Avery (Steven Anthony Lawrence) is the comedian of the team. Jack Watson (Sammy Fine) is a curly redhead who never takes off his uniform and is always being coddled by his mother (Karly Rothenberg.) The Tigers’ first game with Phil as the coach is a disaster, with a 13-0 loss, so he asks Buck’s next-door neighbor, former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka (as himself), to be his assistant coach. Though he doesn’t know anything about soccer, Ditka accepts Phil’s offer, mainly because he hates Buck and has made it his life goal to tick Buck off. After the Tigers lose the next few games, Ditka has a solution…bring in some ringers. Ditka takes Phil to a local butcher named Umberto (Joseph R. Sicari) who has his two Italian nephews named Massimo (Alessandro Ruggiero) and Gian Piero (Francesco Liotti) working for him. The boys are amazing soccer players, so they convince the reluctant Umberto to allow them to join the team, but he tells them always to remember…“meat comes first!” From the first game with the Italians, the Tigers go on a winning streak, making the team adopt two mantras: “meat comes first” and “give it to the Italians.” Meanwhile, Phil has discovered a new love…designer coffee. With daily visits to the local coffee shop, Beantown, Phil goes from a competitive dad who just wanted Sam to have some fun to an obsessive dad who wants to beat Buck at all costs. The Italians have been pretty much just dominating the game, leaving practically everyone feeling like they are warming the bench, even when they are in the game. The Tigers reach the championship game, and of course, it is a game against the Gladiators. Buck makes a bet with him that if the Gladiators win the game, Phil will come and work for him. Phil only accepts the bet under one condition: he wants Buck’s “Pele Ball” (Buck had snatched the stray soccer ball kicked by soccer legend Pele out of Phil’s hands when Phil was a kid, and has kept it ever since.) With the bet on the line, and with too much caffeine in his blood, Phil alienates everyone, including Ditka, Barbara, and Sam, just to show up Buck for the first time in his life.
This movie is completely Ferrell’s baby, because no one else in the cast comes even close to matching him. He is a chameleon who can go from a sniveling crybaby to psychotic fanatical dad at the drop of a hat. Duvall plays the perfect domineering dad, and he proves that he can do comedy just as well as his Godfather II co-star Robert De Niro (he did Secondhand Lions two years ago, but I can’t remember many comedies that he did before that.) Ditka is a surprisingly effective actor, but from everything I’ve ever seen about Ditka and his gruff manor as a coach, that is no surprise. Walsh and Vander end up becoming just background without much to contribute, other than to support their men. The kids, unfortunately, don’t have anyone memorable. They just seem to be the millionth copy of 1976’s The Bad News Bears.
It’s surprising that the movie didn’t go to the same extremes as director Jesse Dylan’s previous two movies, 2001’s How High and 2003’s American Wedding. Maybe in an attempt to be more family friendly, he took all of the potential hilarity out of it. Speaking of Bears, that movie managed to be politically incorrect and still be fun for kids (or maybe older kids.) Today, Bears might have gotten a PG-13 rating, but it would have been funny anyway. This movie could have used a little more politically incorrect humor. At least the movie lined up well as far as the screenwriters go. Leo Benvenuti and Steve Rudnick wrote the screenplays for the family films 1994’s The Santa Clause, 1996’s Space Jam, and 2002’s The Santa Clause 2. They know their target audience and they have managed to come up with some movies that even adults could enjoy. I guess what I am saying is that Dylan’s R-rated humor and Benvenuti/Rudnick’s PG-rated humor could have found a better common ground to make this a five-star family film.
As it goes now, Kicking & Screaming is at least one of the better family films of 2005. I haven’t seen Are We There Yet? or Because of Winn-Dixie yet, but I have seen The Pacifier and Ice Princess, and this movie is much better than those movies. It’s surprising though that the movie was executive-produced by “Freaks and Geeks” creator Judd Apatow (there are a couple of funny in-jokes in it; one of the Gladiators has “Apatow” on his jersey, and Martin Starr from “F&G” makes a cameo appearance in the coffee shop.) This movie isn’t up to his benchmark. I wonder what it will be like when Apatow makes his directorial debut (his first movie, The 40 Year Old Virgin, comes out in August.) I’m also wondering about Ferrell’s next movie, the big screen adaptation of the ‘60s fantasy sitcom “Bewitched” (coming out next month.) I’m just glad that families can see a movie that doesn’t suck for the parents as well. Kids won’t have to drag their parents kicking and screaming to see it.
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