THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Time for some more Movie Math: The Bad News Bears – incessant swearing + soccer = Kicking & Screaming. Will Ferrell stars as Phil Weston, a suburban vitamin store owner. Phil’s son Sam (Dylan McLaughlin) plays on a youth soccer team; well, actually he just warms the bench. The coach is Buck Weston (Robert Duvall), Phil’s father. The two of them have had a life-long competition. Nothing Phil ever did was quite good enough, and Buck never passed up a chance to remind him that he could do everything better. When Sam was born, Buck had a child at the same time…with his much-younger wife, no less.

When Buck decides to trade Sam to the Tigers, the lowest ranked team in the league, Phil steps up as their new coach. He views this partly as a chance to bond with his son, but also as a chance to show his old man what he can do. The team consists of possibly the least athletic children in America. It doesn’t help matters that Phil isn’t exactly a born leader. Coincidentally, Buck’s next door neighbor is former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka; even more important is the fact that Ditka hates Buck. Phil suddenly finds himself with a powerful assistant coach.

Things start to turn around for the team when Ditka drafts two Italian kids who are soccer naturals. He also gets Phil hooked on coffee, which turns the coach into a raving lunatic. Phil suddenly becomes more aggressive, more competitive, more focused on victory at any cost. In other words, he becomes his father.

The formula for Kicking & Screaming is as old as the hills: an unwitting coach struggles to get a ragtag team into shape, earn a spot in the championship, and win the big game. The movie doesn’t miss a single step in the formula. You can no doubt guess which team the Tigers take on for the championship; you can just as easily guess who makes the winning goal. And do you think Phil and Buck will resolve their competitiveness?

Although the plot is by-the-numbers, I think the movie knows it’s by-the-numbers, and I think it has some fun spoofing the cliches we’re all familiar with. Even better is that the screenplay has some genuinely witty ways of putting a twist on the material. For instance, there’s a clever scene in which Buck cruelly berates Phil while the two play a heated game of tetherball. It intentionally calls to mind the classic scene from The Great Santini in which a domineering military father (also played by Robert Duvall) berates his son while playing basketball. I also liked how the film allows Mike Ditka to send up his hard-as-nails image. These little details help hook us into the humor.

The real selling point of Kicking & Screaming though, is Will Ferrell. The comedian gained popularity (and respect) on “Saturday Night Live” for committing 100% to the material. No matter how good or bad the sketch was, Ferrell fearlessly dived in head first. He’s taken that approach to his movie characters as well. It’s kind of amazing that he can play a character like Frank the Tank in the raunchy Old School and then turn around and make a family film like this one or Elf. As always, Ferrell earns laughs through his commitment. He becomes the vitamin salesman-turned-madman coach.

The kids are cute but kind of indistinct, and as I said, the story isn’t the most original. Still, I liked Kicking & Screaming because it made me laugh pretty consistently. Will Ferrell is The Man, capable of turning a standard kids’ sports flick into a delightfully goofy movie for all ages. It’s also worth mentioning that the story has a good moral for kids about not letting their parents poison them with a “win at any cost” mentality. Unfortunately, there are more than a few Phil Westons out there, and even more Buck Westons. Will Ferrell knows this and has a great time using comedy to put those parents in their place.

( out of four)

Kicking & Screaming is rated PG for thematic elements, language and some crude humor. The running time is 1 hour and 35 minutes.

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