Net Result: Funny
Kicking and Screaming, the first real family movie for the 2005 summer season, stars Will Ferrell as Phil Weston, a lily-livered vitamin salesman forced to coach his son's soccer team, The Tigers, after the real coach disappears for some unknown reason. Of course the joke here is that Phil has no idea how to coach a team. And despite the fact that his team is made up of a gaggle of misfits, morons and lamebrains, he's also the most juvenile member of the team.
Ferrell brings numerous comedic holdovers from his hilarious Elf character to the soccer field, including the amusing juxtaposition of infantile behavior and childish naiveté that comes from a grown man's body. But in Kicking and Screaming, he substitutes the green elfin jacket, yellow tights and curly-toed shoes for an obnoxious, homemade, tiger-striped jogging suit. He's almost the same character, but with different clothes. Ferrell's matter-of-fact humor never fails in this kind of role. Who else, when hit in the puss with a car's airbag, could blurt something as straightforward as "that really hurt my face" yet, still evoke cheers and laughter from the audience. He openly berates the kids on the soccer field and even insults the referees, but because of his infantile mannerisms and singsong immature delivery, we're never offended, nor do we ever completely buy into his mean-spiritedness.
Unlike most of the ultra-aggressive dads and Hummer driving suburbanite soccer moms, Phil still believes that soccer is not a matter of winning and losing, but rather it's about having fun. That is until he's unwittingly pitted against his gung-ho, super-competitive dad Buck (Robert Duvall) who coaches his own young son's first place team. I'm not spoiling anything by telling you that Phil and Buck meet up in the finals of the soccer season.
Seeing the opportunity to finally beat his dad at something, Phil makes a bet with his father on the outcome of the big game, but not before signing up a few ringers that will most assuredly bring victory. First, he enlists the coaching help of his crotchety old neighbor, Mike Ditka (the real deal) who, besides whipping the kids into tip-top soccer shape, also introduces Phil to Massimo and Gian Piero, a pair of young soccer prodigies from Italy. Massimo and Gian Piero are the apprentice sons of a local butcher who makes it clear to coach Phil that meat comes before soccer.
As the season progresses and the Tigers begin to amass the wins, Phil's obsession with the team turns nearly maniacal. Fueled by his newly discovered love for all things coffee -- and the metabolic enhancement that comes along with such --Phil's fixation with winning morphs him into a win-at-all-costs bully…just like his father. It seems the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. As expected, before the movie is over, Phil and his father both learn something about parenting and we, the audience, learn how not to behave at our kids' sporting events.
Kicking and Screaming is indeed quite funny. But the humor comes more from Ferrell's over-the-top physical antics rather than from the concept of pathologically win-obsessed soccer parents. As the father of a young sports participant, the shtick is not all that exaggerated and its message really hits home.
Director Jesse Dylan has a real crowd-pleaser on his hands and the film will probably end up at the top of this weekend's box office heap. But just like Elf, the film's success rests squarely on Ferrell's shoulders. And he delivers. You won't get a whole lot out of the movie, but then again you weren't expecting that much anyway. Its plot is very formulaic, its messages never come across as heavy-handed, and it never becomes offensive or hateful. It's just a Will Ferrell cinematic playground filled with Will Ferrell antics. Sit back and enjoy!
(Released by Universal Pictures and rated PG for thematic elements, language, and some crude humor)
Review also posted on www.franksreelreviews.com.