Kevin James enters the octagon in “Here Comes the Boom.” Just don’t expect any zany slapstick before or after the bell.
James made the transition from affable sitcom star in “King of Queens” to big screen vehicles like “Paul Blart: Mall Cop,” but he’s serious about making a different kind of comedy with “Boom.”
“It didn’t feel like I wanted this to be that ‘Zookeeper’ goofiness … I never wanted to take away anything from the fighting,” James tells Big Hollywood.
“Here Comes the Boom” casts James as Scott, a biology teacher who decides to enter some Mixed Martial Arts competitions to raise money to keep the school’s music teacher (Henry Winkler) from getting the ax. Scott used to wrestle in high school, but he’s no match for the professional fighters put in his path. He’s still got enough heart to punch up some cash, and when he's given an underdog slot at an officially sanctioned UFC fight he envisions paying off the school's debt.
The comic actor, clad all in black like your average UFC fan, says he was dreaming of making a movie like “Boom” for some time. He came to know some real-life MMA fighters and found their blue-collar spirit infectious.
“Most of these guys I knew were great guys with families. They do an odd job, something I would never do, and I wanted to explore that,” he says.
James also wanted to delicately inject some spirituality into his latest project. In two small but critical scenes "Boom" embraces a higher power.
"Faith is a big thing in my life," says James, who is careful not to preach either in person or on the big screen. "I’m a big believer that there’s a lack of it in this world as a whole."
The comic actor doesn't hold back when discussing his "I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry" co-star Adam Sandler, who co-produced "Boom." Sandler's box office track record is legendary, and James says that confounds critics.
"He’s Teflon. His fans love him so much. It frustrates his critics. They can’t stop him ... he’s the real deal," he says of his show business chum. "He’s a great family man, and that’s all I try to do. We keep it low key and live our lives," he adds, saying the best way to stay out of the tabloids is to surround oneself with the grounded people.
"We just ... give the people what they want, and what we think is funny and endearing," he says of their combined artistic approach.
James took his fair share of punishment while shooting "Here Comes the Boom" – “I got clocked,” he says without hesitation. He simply wanted to recreate the feel from his favorite movie, the 1976 heart tugger “Rocky.”
“If I can capture a glimpse of that feeling of inspiration, the way I felt leaving the theater, I’d be more than thrilled,” he says.
Follow Christian Toto on Twitter @TotoMovies