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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Monday, July 28, 2014

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Kevin James stars in "Here Comes the Boom," in theaters Friday.
Kevin James stars in "Here Comes the Boom," in theaters Friday.

"Here Comes the Boom" manages more hits than misses

Sequels have a reputation for being awful injustices compared to their originals. Apparently, they should consider the "alternate universe" method used by "Here Comes the Boom," which, despite being the parallel-reality version of "Happy Gilmore," did a pretty good job holding its own.

"Here Comes the Boom" goes down like this: after school budget cuts threaten to put beloved music teacher Marty (played charmingly by Henry Winkler) out of a job, slacker coworker Scott Voss (Kevin James) takes up MMA fighting to raise the money to put things right. Along the way he teams up with an injured pro (Bas Rutten) who coaches him to the top, stubbornly earns the affection of his out-of-his-league love interest (Salma Hayek) and comes out of it an all-around better guy.

Now, replace the operative bits with those from Sandler's (to be fair, very funny) golf comedy and you might as well be playing Happy Madison Mad Libs.

It would be easy to write off the movie on this regurgitated formula, but it's not out for the count for one big reason: James' role (or roles, if you include his writing credit). He brings a new likeability to the "lovable loser" archetype that made Sandler's 1996 goofball so memorable, but has since been done to near death. More importantly, it's what keeps this protagonist from getting stale. James negotiates a solid middle ground between zany and serious, which gives Voss both sincerity and room to be funny – and the smarts to know which to use where.

The same can be said for all of "Boom." There are a couple kooky weirdos (Voss' first moneymaking venture teaching a late-night citizenship course is a bargain bin full of them), but for the most part the comedy is situational, rather than character-driven. Voss actually works for his success, and so does the movie. It recruited UFC names for credibility instead of effect, and worked within plausible parameters as best it could. The movie kept the reins on the most off-the-wall situations (Voss' brother's large, unkempt family, for example) which maintained consistency and kept them from stealing too much attention from the rest of the funny bits.

I wouldn't call "Here Comes the Boom" a knockout. A high school biology teacher becoming an MMA pro in less than one school year requires a little suspension of disbelief to take in, but hey, it's not like it's out to win an Oscar. I do, however, have to hand it to James and company. It was a longshot, but this recycled underdog put up a good fight and managed to come out ahead.

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