MMA fighters can be ripped ... or they can be a little doughy around the edges.
And then there's Kevin James, the husky comic cast as a reluctant MMA fighter scrapping to raise money for a very good cause.
It's a setup ripe for James' signature humor, the bawdy, bone-breaking sort that helped him launch a legitimate big screen career. The erstwhile "King of Queens" has something else in mind.
"Here Comes the Boom" is formula filmmaking to its core, but that's no sin in today's remake/reboot age. Is there a heart beating beneath said formula? Yup, thanks to an earnest, give it all ya got performance by James and loopy supporting turns by an old pro and a bona fide MMA star.
James is Scott, a biology teacher who long ago stopped caring about his gig. When he learns the school's avuncular music teacher (Henry Winkler) will be canned if the school can't raise the money to retain him, Scott takes bold action. He steps into a local octagon and battles MMA style, figuring it's the quickest way to raise cash.
Scott wrestled in high school, but he's woefully unprepared for the beatings he takes. So he recruits a wannabe U.S. citizen named Niko (former MMA star Bas Rutten) to give him some tips. Or, at the very least, pick him up off the canvas as needed.
"Boom" embraces the under-underdog hero template, down to Scott flirting with the prettiest teacher in town (a no-nonsense Salma Hayek). Why he sacrifices himself for a fellow teacher when he doesn't even care about his own students (at first) is a stretch, so is Scott's ability to stay upright for as long as he does.
James, who co-wrote the screenplay, gives himself some real-world struggles to sweeten the story. The school's budget is in crisis, one of Scott's best pals is a harried family man dealing with workaday stress, and the economy itself is as fragile as it is in real life.
Add a warm, consistently engaging set of jokes and "Boom" shows a new side to James' screen persona.
The "Rocky" beats arrive as you expect in the third act, but the fight sequences are capably photographed and James proves surprisingly nimble when called upon. Both Winkler and Rutten excel in very different ways, with the ex-fighter's immigrant story lending "Boom" a patriotic veneer.
"Here Comes the Boom" can't quite nail all the details. A vomit gag is telegraphed in awkward fashion, and the romantic subplot has a few weird moments that rob it of emotional momentum.
But when it's just Scott and an oversized opponent in the ring, you'll be hard pressed not to cheer more than a little inside.