Kicking & Screaming
Kicking & Screaming--about a guy who takes out his frustrations with his overly competitive father on the playing fields of a boys' soccer league--is sort of a cross between Bad News Bears and Parenthood. Although not nearly as endearing as either one of those films, it still has its moments thanks to Will Ferrell.
Phil Weston (Ferrell) is a kindly fellow who owns and runs a vitamin store, has a lovely wife (Kate Walsh) and son, and has some serious issues with his father, Buck (Robert Duvall). All his life, Phil has had to endure his father's over-the-top competitive nature, and he always falling short of the mark. When Phil decides to coach his 10-year-old son's soccer team, he once again goes up against Buck, who coaches his own young son on the top team in the league. Of course, Phil's team is the worst team on the league, but that doesn't matter. Something suddenly snaps in Phil, and he sees a chance to settle some old scores with the old man. He starts using extreme measures to try to whip his young charges into shape. They include getting Mike Ditka as an assistant coach (played by the real ex-football coach, oddly enough), bringing on two Italian whiz kids as secret weapons, and drinking lots and lots of coffee (trust me, it works). Phil can taste his first real shot at victory and will stop at nothing to win the championship trophy.
Some of you might think Ferrell's antics are wearing a little thin, that maybe he's a little overrated and overexposed. But I'm not one of them. Ferrell could read a telephone book and I'd laugh. So watching him once again play a hapless, bighearted loser--who is pushed to the edge so much so that he berates children, calls the formidable Ditka a ''Juice-box boy'' and melts right on down to the nub--is another treat for me. Of course, much like Walter Matthau in Bad News Bears, Ferrell has some help from his younger costars. The misfit soccer team includes all the different types: a diminutive fireplug (Elliot Cho), whose lesbian mothers (played hilariously by Rachael Harris and Laura Kightlinger) keep insisting is ''shy''; a wisecracker (Steven Anthony Lawrence) with a serious overbite; and of course, Phil's own sweet son Sam (Dylan McLaughlin), who just wants to have fun. Ditka also seems to be having a good time in all his bullying glory. Duvall, however, doesn't really have much to do except throw his weight around a bit--and perhaps relive some of his The Great Santini moments.
Kicking & Screaming has a couple of things going for it. The father-son and underdog themes are tried and true plot contrivances that inherently work because of the ultimate payoffs. Director Jesse Dylan (American Wedding), along with the writing team of Leo Benvenuti and Steve Rudnick (The Santa Clause), knows this and exploit the machinations to their fullest capabilities. You want Phil's team to win at any costs, but, of course, you want them all to learn a big lesson. Ho hum. Unlike the charming Parenthood or the irreverent Bad News Bears, Kicking & Screaming unfortunately caters to the formulaic a tad too much. Save for a few comic bursts from its lead player, it never really finds its own individuality.
With Will Ferrell infusing his comic brilliance into the proceedings, at least you know you won't be dragged out of the theater Kicking & Screaming.