7 February 2011

Movies I Missed (Part 2): Kicking & Screaming (2005)

It’s time for Part 2 of “Movies I Missed”. This month I’m taking a look at 2005’s Will Ferrell starring “Kicking & Screaming”, a kid friendly soccer flick produced by none other than Judd Apatow.

Kicking & Screaming
Release Year -2005
Worldwide Box-Office – $56,070,433
Critical Reaction – Mixed and fairly unenthusiastic (42% on Rotten Tomatoes)

When “Kicking & Screaming” was released I wasn’t yet a Will Ferrell convert. I hadn’t seen “Anchorman” at the time (I believe I first watched it in 2006), and whilst I had enjoyed “Elf”, one film alone was not enough to convince me that Ferrell’s participation was worth the risk of suffering through a generic underdog sports picture. The fact it was directed by the man behind the nauseatingly bad third instalment of the “American Pie” series also didn’t help matters. Things have changed in 2011. I now consider myself a major fan of Ferrell’s, and am one of the few people I know who still maintains oodles of patience with the comic (I actually liked “Land of the Lost”), so over the last few months I’ve slowly been working through the more forgotten components of his CV. Last year I checked out and kind of appreciated “A Night at the Roxbury” (a complete turkey on release), and just yesterday I got the chance to take my first look at “Kicking & Screaming”. Despite my love of all things Ferrell I still wasn’t super excited, for instance the presence of filmmaker Jesse Dylan still sickens me as much now as it did in 2005. Similarly in order to refresh my memory I took a quick gander at the movie’s promotional material, the trailer not exactly amounting to a fountain of promise. Ultimately “Kicking & Screaming” was many of the things I feared it would be, unnecessarily cheesy in parts and with a story so obvious an unborn foetus could probably accurately predict the finish. However the movie skates by on the strength of good intentions and Ferrell’s surprisingly barmy turn. It’s hard to label the film as anything more substantial than Saturday morning fodder, but for the duration of its 95 minutes it holds together adequately.

The film’s plot is simplistic. Phil Weston (Will Ferrell) has always felt undervalued by his competitive father Buck (Robert Duvall). Never good at sports, Phil instead opted to open a vitamin store and settle down, rather than chase the athletic dreams his father paved out for him. When Phil’s son Sam (Dylan McLaughlin) is traded by Buck from little league titans The Gladiators to bottom of the league no hopers The Tigers, Phil decides to take matters into his own hands. Phil garners the coaching job at The Tigers, determined to whip the squad into shape and grant the children a legitimately fun experience. However when The Tigers actually start to stitch together a run of wins, Phil becomes obsessed with victory, forgetting the innocent dynamic that initially helped him spur the unskilled Tigers forward.

Will Ferrell is the only proper reason to watch “Kicking & Screaming”, handing in a performance that slides perfectly from warm and likable to unhinged tyrant. Ferrell has stacks of energy and works well alongside a game Duvall (never taking it too seriously), resulting in a hostile father/son dynamic that actually spits out a credible handful of laughs. Dylan seems fixated on utilizing Ferrell’s more manic tendencies as often as possible, a subplot involving a bizarre coffee addiction resulting in some pretty steady amusement. You get the sense that the former SNL comedian is applying as much effort as possible here, using his own acute skills to overcome the screenplay’s pedestrian formula. It never totally works (“Kicking & Screaming” is just too familiar in design), but he grinds out enough giggles to halfway compensate for the lack of narrative invention.

Dylan does a good job of shooting the soccer matches; “Kicking & Screaming” isn’t as ignorant a depiction of the sport as most American projects that feature it. There’s a semi-keen eye for the proper mechanics of soccer, the film even featuring some tasty skill from a pair of talented Italian youngsters. Of course there’s a lot of goofball activity present on the pitch, as one would expect from a picture about athletic misfits, but from time to time “Kicking & Screaming” actually has the decency to back its moments of football with a little heat and composure. As a soccer fan, I really appreciated that facet of the film.

The story is peppered with saccharine interludes and it climaxes with a scenario stolen from just about every genre counterpart “Kicking & Screaming” has. The final message (forget winning and just ensure you enjoy yourself) isn’t original, but I suppose to a younger audience it’s actually quite beneficial. I know it’s delusional to not pre-empt such weaknesses in a picture of this nature, but just because it’s become the norm doesn’t make it beyond criticism. The slavish devotion to convention evidenced in “Kicking & Screaming” is its most frustrating flaw, one that almost overcomes the production’s welcome PG themed tomfoolery.

The kids featured are unusually tolerable, the filmmakers only playing the cute card sporadically. Some have gone onto enjoy healthy careers (a prepubescent Josh Hutcherson is an interesting spot), but for the majority one imagine s this will be the highlight of their professional output. They ought to be pretty pleased with their contribution; they’re a charming selection of fools, a few of them even displaying a natural touch for comedy. On another note “Kicking & Screaming” features an odd performance from NFL coaching legend Mike Ditka, portraying none other than himself. It’s a weird addition to the tale, but again good for a few zany chortles if you can stomach the ridiculousness of it all.

“Kicking & Screaming” didn’t set the box-office alight (its international gross particularly low, especially given the focus on soccer); Ferrell had to wait until “Talladega Nights” before he officially became a bankable leading man. However as an effective example of the actor’s talents the movie works, especially seeing as he has to grapple with such a lacklustre concept. It’s not a must see, but on a quiet Sunday afternoon you could do much worse.

Is it worth catching up with? - If you adore Ferrell and have some free time it’s a perfectly harmless way to spend an hour and a half. Not essential, but definitely watchable. For BT VISION costumers in the UK this film is currently available for free on the BT VISION FILM CLUB package, and will remain so until the 3rd of March 2011. (B-)

Daniel Kelly, 2011


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