Kicking & Screaming

2005, Movie, PG, 95 mins


Nearly 30 years after THE BAD NEWS BEARS (1976) poked fun at overinvolved parents and a reluctant coach's rehabilitation of an apparently hopeless Little League team, this flabby comedy reworks the formula for kids' soccer and wraps it around a squishy story about father-son reconciliation. Ever since childhood, Phil Weston (Will Ferrell), a klutz with the competitive spirit of a paving stone, has failed to live up to the expectations of his macho dad, sporting goods mini-magnate Buck (Robert Duvall). Phil swore he'd never make his own son, Sam (Dylan McLaughlin), feel inadequate. But Sam's getting the treatment anyway, as a member of the Gladiators, the children's soccer team Buck coaches and the very team on which Phil suffered humiliation after ego-crippling humiliation. Sam is reliving Phil's experience, warming the bench so better players — including his own 10-year-old uncle Bucky (Josh Hutcherson), Buck's son by his second marriage — can shine, and the ultimate humiliation is still to come. Buck heartlessly trades his own grandson to the Tigers, the losingest team in the league. Phil reluctantly agrees to coach the last-place Tigers, the usual assortment of freaks and geeks updated with the addition of a tiny, nearsighted boy (Elliott Cho) with two mommies. Aware that he doesn't know the first thing about coaching — and really mad at his dad — Phil enlists the aid of Buck's next-door neighbor and longtime nemesis, legendary football coach Mike Ditka (playing himself). With the fortuitous addition of two recently arrived Italian kids (Francesco Liotti, Alessandro Ruggiero) who can really play, the Tigers shape up into a winning team. Unfortunately, the taste of victory turns Phil into a coffee-swilling, win-at-any-cost bully just like his father. Even by the low standards of formulaic sports comedies, this one comes up short: The kids are nothing more than the sum of their quirks, Phil's relationship with Buck never feels like anything more than a plot device and the other parents barely register. But the heart of the problem may be that real life youth-sports insanity has far exceeded the bounds of family-friendly comedy. It takes a tough sensibility to find humor in group insanity so pathological that an irate father can beat an ice hockey coach to death in front of a rink full of kids (as happened in Massachusetts in 2000), and this vapid little bit of feel-good slapstick isn't going there. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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