If Will Ferrell quit the business tomorrow, his place within the hipster pop culture pantheon would be secure. With roles like OLD SCHOOL’S Frank The Tank and his better Saturday Night Live bits, Ferrell has made his mark playing the “man-child:” a character whose faux cool exterior hides a fragile (and funny) tyke inside who gives in to fits of spontaneous, vocally high-pitched and emotionally intense outbursts. In Jesse Dylan’s KICKING & SCREAMING, his shtick collides with actual children for a go on the soccer pitch.
Ferrell plays Phil Weston, a vitamin salesman whose son warms the bench on his soccer team. Phil is a wishy-washy modern guy who can easily cry, sew, and be politically correct around lesbians (did I mention he also sells vitamins?) Despite a lifetime’s worth of trying, Phil has never been able to please his hard-line father Buck (Robert Duvall) who coaches said soccer team with the ferocity of Vince Lombardi. Buck is a man’s man, who eats steak for breakfast and cares enough about winning to bench his own grandson. When Phil pleads with Buck to get his son off the pine, Buck “trades” him to the last place team in the league, which is, of course, filled with a cast of non-athletic booger-flickers and dirt-eaters channeled from the likes of the original BAD NEWS BEARS. Cue not one but two hit-in-the-groin jokes. Left without a coach and faced with forfeiting their season, Phil fills in, helped out by his father’s neighbor and rival, real life ex-football coach Mike Ditka. Before long, Phil obsesses with beating his father and loses sight of why he took the job in the first place – to be a better dad to his son.
The best part of the film – for adults anyway – is the contrast between Buck’s “Father Knows Best” old school and Phil’s “Queer Eye For The Straight Guy” new school. Ferrell, for one, plays straight man to the wacky group of tykes for a sizable portion of the film. It’s only in the second half, as an overly caffeinated coaching monster, does he tackle his comedic talents and some genuine chuckles ensue. Ditka also proves himself game, although, to be fair, I’m not sure how much of a stretch it is to play oneself or a parody thereof.
The worst part of the film – for adults again – is Jesse Dylan’s (yes, Bob’s son) filmmaking skills. At least half the movie is shot hand-held, resulting in a constant shaky frame. Does an innocent scene where Phil hands out little birds in cages to each team member need to look like a LAW & ORDER episode? Do the birds murder the parents? No! Too many scenes also felt stitched together. It’s almost as if Dylan didn’t know what he wanted, shot everything possible and patched together a sloppy quilt in the editing room. You may scoff at my critical snobbery over such a “family” movie, but the simple truth is that filmmaking basics are like umpiring in baseball: it’s at its best when you don’t notice it. Any moment where your viewing momentum is broken is poison for a director.
If you are an eleven year-old boy with a face full of chocolate and you and your buddies need to ride out a Reese’s Pieces high, I’d recommend KICKING & SCREAMING. For you twenty or thirty-something fans of Will Ferrell, I’d wait four months, save five bucks, rent the DVD and suckle a few chuckles and munchies in the comfort of your own home.
**1/2 out of *****