Robert K. Elder
FILM REVIEW: KICKING & SCREAMING
By Robert K. Elder
Chicago Tribune Staff Writer
To call "Kicking & Screaming" a Will Ferrell comedy vehicle gives too much credit to its wafer-thin, comedy-by-the-numbers script.
It's Ferrell who is the vehicle, a mow-you-down comic engine, and everyone else is just along for the ride in this marginally effective, starkly unoriginal family comedy.
Ferrell plays Phil Weston, a vitamin-store owner mired in a lifelong rivalry with his uber-competitive dad, Buck (Robert Duvall). When Phil announces he's getting married, Buck introduces his new young bride at the same instant. The couples even have children on the same day.
And when win-obsessed Buck trades his own bench-warming grandson Sam (Dylan McLaughlin) to the worst soccer team in the league, Phil steps in to coach his son and lock horns with his dad.
As you might guess, Phil's team makes the Bad News Bears look like a well-oiled athletic machine. Inept and uncoordinated himself, Phil brings in his dad's neighbor and mortal enemy, famed Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka (playing himself), to whip the team into shape and to recruit a couple of 11-year-old Italian ringers.
"If you guys were the Bears, I'd fine you $10,000 apiece!" Ditka growls at his team as they struggle through pushups.
Cigar-chomping Ditka also introduces Phil to coffee ("the lifeblood that drives the dreams of champions") which only fuels Phil's sideline mania.
"Break their clavicles!" becomes a battle cry as the Tigers claw their way into the championship and toward a final father-son face off.
Ferrell's innocent man-child act goes an amazingly long way in "Kicking & Screaming." He's playing an Adam Sandler-type character whose bottled-up rage begins to manifest in comic violence - an Incredible Hulk unleashed on a kiddie playing field.
Ferrell can turn the simplest phrase ("I got punched in the face and it hurt") into a sturdy laugh line. But given so little script to fall back on, even Ferrell's charms start to dissipate toward the end of the movie. Ditka and Duvall (the latter far too underused in comedies) lend some support, but ultimately Ferrell shoulders the burden.
After director Jesse Dylan ("How High") takes us through the umpteenth slow-motion soccer game - while continually removing all the air from the theater with sticky-sweet life lessons - the film starts to feel winded and tired in its final 15 minutes. Yet Ferrell sticks with it, kicking and screaming indeed, distracting us with his good-natured mugging until enough "it's-not-about-winning" lessons to fill a sequel are pounded home.
"Kicking & Screaming"
Directed by Jesse Dylan; screenplay Leo Benvenuti and Steve Rudnick; cinematography by Lloyd Ahern; production design by Clayton Hartley; music by Mark Isham; edited by Stuart H. Pappe and Peter Teschner; produced by Jimmy Miller. A Universal release; opens Friday, May 13. Running time: 1:35. MPAA rating: PG (thematic elements, language and some crude humor).
Phil Weston - Will Ferrell
Buck Weston - Robert Duvall
Himself - Mike Ditka
Barbara Weston - Kate Walsh
Sam Weston - Dylan McLaughlin
Mark Avery - Steven Anthony Lawrence
Byong Sun - Elliott Cho