I wonder sometimes whether big-time blockbuster movie stars ever feel guilt. I’m not talking about guys like Chad Michael Murray or the late James Van Der Beek (he is dead, right?) who cash in on whatever roles they can find before Teen Beat goes on to the next overly-ripped Aryan teenage wonder. And I’m not talking about the Vin Diesel/Bruce Willis/Nicholas Cage action-star types, whom we expect to make shitty movies and are occasionally pleasantly surprised when something like Pulp Fiction or Adaptation comes along. I’m talking about those movie stars — mostly comedians — who develop a reputation over a few movies for being consistently funny and then cash in on that goodwill, knowing that whatever bland, generic film they decide to do will draw huge box office numbers but leave most moviegoers unsatisfied. For instance, Ice Cube in State of the Union, Adam Sandler in Little Nicky and Mr. Deeds, or even Jimmy Fallon, who tried (unsuccessfully) to parlay what little credibility he’d built up on SNL into Taxi and Fever Pitch. Honestly, does Ben Stiller give a shit that some soon-to-be-outsourced factory worker in Duluth decides to shell out a day’s wages to take his family to see Along Came Polly because he thought Meet the Parents was the funniest movie of his lifetime?
Likewise, I wonder how Will Ferrell feels now, having built a nice following of adolescent-minded 30-year-olds behind the success of Old School, Anchorman, and even Elf, and then tricking us into paying to watch Kicking and Screaming knowing damn good and well as soon as he saw the script that the movie was going to blow. I mean, c’mon! It was written by the team behind The Santa Clause and The Santa Clause 2. I suspect that Ferrell — who seems suitably humble in interviews — has to feel some guilt, knowing that millions of folks are going to run out this weekend expecting to see him maniacally ramble in non-sequitur-speak (e.g., “I wanna say something. I’m gonna put it out there; if you like it, you can take it; if you don’t, send it right back: I want to be on you.”) only to end up watching f#!*ing Ladybugs 2.
The cliched underdog sports-movie plot behind Kicking and Screaming follows the Tigers, a crappy soccer team made up of nondescript grade school players, coached by Phil Weston (Ferrell), the wimpy vitamin-selling son of sporting goods peddler Buck (Robert Duvall). Phil — despite hiring Mike Ditka (playing himself … poorly) to help coach the soccer team — can’t seem to buy a win until he finds a couple of Italian ringers to join the team, who turn the hapless cellar dwellers into a winning squad, triggering the pent-up, neurotic soccer-Dad rage inside Phil — a long, slow build that unfortunately lasts only about three minutes before he is overcome with sit-commy Ward Cleaver-ness.
Kicking and Screaming is, mostly, just another Hollywood copout. It is, in fact, the most reprehensible kind of shitty movie — it’s lazy, dull, half-assed, and worst of all, misleading. When the trailer shows Will Ferrell kicking an eight-year-old and shouting rabidly in his face, you expect a movie full of violent scatology. What you don’t expect, however, is a goddamn Disneyfied morality tale about how it’s more important to have fun than it is to win. That’s not only bullshit, it’s fallacious, and worst of all, it’s not funny. We don’t run out to watch Will Ferrell comedies hoping for a false sense of humanism; we want to see a hairy guy with a spare tire run drunk and naked through the streets singing old Styx songs. The last thing in the world we want to see is Frank the Tank apologize to his eight-year-old for being a sore winner.
It’s one thing for a comedian who has gotten himself in a rut to try to expand into more serious roles, a career move I can respect, even when it fails (see Punch-Drunk Love) . But it’s quite another when he completely regresses, doing only a half-hearted imitation of himself, which is essentially what Ferrell does here. Still and all, I imagine that that the 10-year-old demographic may find some small joys in Kicking and Screaming, if for no other reason than that the movie seems to appeal to those who still find simple pleasures in eating the contents of their own noses.
Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba and managing partner of its parent company, which prefers to remain anonymous for reasons pertaining to public relations. He lives in Ithaca, New York.
Kicking and Screaming / Dustin Rowles
Film | May 12, 2006 | Comments ()