out of Five stars
Running time: 94
Sporadically funny film with an achingly predictable plot – your enjoyment of this will hinge on whether or not you think Will Ferrell is a Comedy God.
Will Ferrell is definitely something of an acquired taste, as witnessed by the “Was Dodgeball funnier than Anchorman?” argument that continues to rage amongst film-goers in pubs everywhere.
Ferrell plays mild mannered vitamin salesman Phil Weston, a man who’s spent his whole life being upstaged by his overbearing, ultra-competitive father, Buck (Robert Duvall). Not only did Buck announce his wedding to his young, sexy second wife (Musetta Vander) on the day of Phil’s engagement to Barbara (Kate Walsh), they even had sons on the same day!
Ten years later, Phil reluctantly agrees to coach the Tigers, his son Sam’s (Dylan McLaughlin) Little League team of misfits and no-hopers, after Buck drops Sam from his own all-conquering team, the Gladiators.
It looks as though the Tigers don’t have a hope in hell, but Phil has some plans up his sleeve, including the employment of real-life football coach Mike Ditka (played by Mike Ditka, in a joke lost on English audiences) and the drafting in of two football-obsessed Italian boys. With these secret weapons in place, the stage is set for the Championship final…
The ‘coach trains team of loveable losers and misfits’ plot is a tried and tested formula, so there are no prizes for guessing where this is all heading. The football scenes themselves are extremely well filmed and capture the excitement and skill of the game. The main problem is that the ‘Will Ferrell Movie’ element of the film gets in the way of what should be the movie’s natural high-points, so the resolution isn’t as satisfying as it should be because the film and, more importantly, Ferrell’s character, haven’t really earned it.
That said, when Ferrell’s comedy schtick works, the film is very funny indeed. Highlights include: Phil panicking and regressing to child-like
behaviour; Phil’s initial interaction with the kids (“Wait…how’d I get burned?”); and Phil screaming abuse at his own team and bullying the opposing teams. There’s also a running gag about Phil’s burgeoning coffee addiction that starts off funny and quickly becomes tedious and over-worked.
As for the supporting cast, the kids are good but you never really get a chance to get to know them beyond their basic stereotypes. However, Robert Duvall is superb (his love of football is well-documented) and seems to really enjoy playing a comic variation of his sports-obsessed father in the classic The Great Santini.
Mike Ditka is also very funny and gets several good lines, although both the main female parts are severely underwritten and there are some wasted comic opportunities between Phil and his ten year old “uncle”, Buck Jnr (Josh Hutcherson). Bizarrely, there are several alternate scenes during the closing credits that are actually funnier than the scenes that made it into the film.
In short, there are several laugh-out-loud moments in Kicking & Screaming but the film is slightly disappointing overall because it’s so easy to see how it could have been funnier. It’s unlikely to make any Ferrell converts but if you’re already a fan, you’ll probably get a kick out of this.