Mike Ditka and Will Ferrell in Universal Pictures' Kicking & Screaming - 2005
I'll be the first to admit that a movie about precocious pee-wee soccer players would not generally be on my radar screen. I usually avoid cutesy kids movies like the plague, unless they're Pixar, or have some other connection to my childhood, like the upcoming Chris Van Allsburg adaptation Zathura. But, on the other hand, I'll go see almost any movie that has Will Farrell, and as a result, I found myself this weekend watching Kicking and Screaming.
I have to say, the movie was actually pretty cute. The kids were relatively likeable, and Farrell is pretty funny. In addition, we have Robert Duvall as the villain, and a very funny turn by, of all people, Mike Ditka, as the assistant coach of our team of misfits. The movie is, essentially, the Bad News Bears (which is, by the way, currently being frighteningly remade with Billy Bob Thornton in the Walter Matthau role - yikes!) except without all the cursing and all the baseball. Farrell is Phil Weston, the mild mannered proprietor of a health-food store who has but one real stress in his life: his father. Duvall is hilarious as Buck Weston, sporting good king and wholly inappropriate dad. On the day young Phil brought home his bride to be, Buck had a surprise in the form of his own young trophy wife. "It's been really hard on me since your mom died," Buck confides to a flabbergasted Phil. "She's not dead! She divorced you!" "Tomaytoes, tomawtoes." replies Buck, with a sheepish grin. On the day Phil's son is born, Buck is right their beside him at the hospital nursery window, pointing out that his own new son, born on the same day, is slightly bigger than Phil's. But when, eleven years later, Buck, who coaches the little league soccer champs, the Gladiators, decides to trade Phil's son Sam to another team, it's the last straw. Naturally Phil winds up coaching that other team, the Tigers, and all hell breaks loose. Or rather, all heck breaks loose; this is a PG movie.
Kicking and Screaming is incredibly simplistic in its morality and situational set-up, but it works all the same. No attempt is made to get the audience to delve any deeper into issues of proper parenting, father-son relationships, or healthy living than you might get in the average 30-minute sitcom, but at least, unlike the sitcom, Kicking doesn't promote any negatives either. Working from a rudimentary script, Farrell, with both his charm and manic wit, elevates this film just out of the Mighty Ducks league, into something better. Good as he is, the two great surprises of the film are Robert Duvall and Mike Ditka. Duvall, an amazing actor, of course, is very funny and works well in a supporting role. Of course, we've seen Duvall funny before, but rarely in a straight comedy. As Buck, he more than matched up to professional comedian Farrell, and very nearly steals the show. Unfortunately for him, the show had already been stolen by football hall-of-famer Mike Ditka, playing himself. Ditka, who lives next door to Buck, has made it his mission to make Buck's life a living hell, and what better way to do it than to coach against him in the soccer tournament. Ditka's role here is that of the rough-hewn sergeant who motivates the men by any means necessary for the benefit of the more refined officers, that you see in so many war movies. Here, he brings that familiar anger and drive to great effect, wearing his trademark Bears sweater, and swilling coffee like it was going out of style. He even brings health nut Phil into the coffee generation, with predictable results.
All in all, though a pretty simple movie, Kicking and Screaming is a lot of fun and with few drawbacks. Yes it's predictable and not very well written, but the comedy is enjoyable, the acting is well-done, and it's a great movie to take your kids to. Aside from a few shots to the crotch, unavoidable in a soccer movie, you won't have to hide their eyes, and the language is milder than what you hear on television. And if the screening I went to is any indication, the kids will love it. The only kicking and screaming you'll have to deal with is when it's time to go home. Grade: B+
Kicking and Screaming is rated PG for mild cartoon violence and mild language.
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