Film Fare...with Mark Moorehead
Kicking & Screaming
General Audiences: B
Will Ferrell plays a kids soccer coach and Mike Ditka is his assistant. If you like Will Ferrell, you’ll love this film because it’s all Ferrell. Nothing objectionable.
Family Audiences: B
Any parent who’s had a son or daughter in organized sports will appreciate the humor in this movie, and kids will laugh out loud at Ferrell. Good family film. Rated PG for some crude humor.
Parents of children in organized sports have taken a bashing lately. The recently released Down and Derby, a film about the Cub Scouts’ annual Pinewood Derby race, portrays parents as completely dominating their kids’ toy car competition.
Dads are so crazed about winning that they utilize wind tunnels to test the aerodynamic design of a five-ounce wooden car and build their own racetracks to improve speed.
Their boys? Well, they’re allowed to paint the car--if they’re lucky.
Now comes Kicking & Screaming, a film about parents dominating their kids’ soccer games as if the adults were the ones playing.
If you’ve ever been to a kids game, particularly club soccer, you’ve seen the overly fanatical moms or dads following sons and daughters down the sidelines, yelling, getting in the ref’s face or dismissing their own child’s unnecessary roughness as simply over-enthusiasm for the game.
And, you might even know a coach who rates the performance of a nine-year-old as if the child is on its way to the Olympic trials.
Fortunately, Kicking & Screaming is a comedy that’s measurably funnier than Down and Derby. Will Ferrell is hilarious as Phil, a mild-mannered average Joe, living the quiet life in suburban Chicago until his father, Buck (Robert Duvall), trades Ferrell’s son (Buck’s grandson) to the worst soccer team in the league.
If this sounds slightly convoluted, it’s because Buck has remarried a much younger woman and now coaches his new young son, Bucky, in the best team of the league.
In the meantime, Phil’s polite, athletically challenged son Sam (Dylan McLaughlin) just doesn’t turn out to be good enough to play for Buck Sr. Phil doesn’t take his father’s rejection of Sam lying down, and volunteers to coach the 10-year-old’s newly adopted soccer team, the Tigers.
When Phil meets the Tigers, he discovers a group of loveable losers of all shapes, sizes and dispositions. There’s the indifferent, distracted big guy; the smart-aleck jokester; the hyper kid; and a goalie with bad eyesight.
Phil recognizes he needs help and enlists his dad’s neighbor, former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka, as his assistant.
Yes, that’s a bit of a stretch in the suspension-of-belief department. However, Ditka plays the perfect “straight man” to the comedic Ferrell.
In one terse exchange between the two, Ferrell exclaims, “You’re my assistant coach. You’re supposed to back me up and get juice boxes when I tell you to!” To which Ditka replies:
“Do you know who you’re talking to?”
Ferrell shoots back, “Yeah, I’m talking to the juice-box guy.”
We can only blame Ditka for transforming mild-mannered Phil into a maniacal coach just like his father. Ditka found Phil a little too laid back and decided Phil needed some high-octane coffee to jumpstart him.
Phil quickly becomes addicted to super-jolt espresso and loses his patience. His philosophy morphs from “it doesn’t matter whether you win or lose; its how you play the game” to “winning is everything, make it so--now!”
Together, Phil and Ditka prove their determination to reach the championships by recruiting two talented soccer-playing Italian brothers as role models for their team. This raises the ante for Buck, who’s never lost a game.
Buck soon pushes his overachieving younger son Bucky and the rest of team, the Gladiators, even harder to meet the challenge.
Robert Duvall as Buck is a riot. He plays himself and not a guy trying to be funny. He takes himself as coach of the defending champions so serious that you’d think he had a million dollars of his own money riding on the outcome of every game in the film.
Of course, this brings us to the ultimate question: Is it more important to win or have fun? Rest assured, Will Ferrell answers that question.
Kicking & Screaming doesn’t break any new ground in this familiar Hollywood formula of “underdog coach takes nerdy kids to the championship game.”However, Ferrell is so funny you’ll forget its formula and look at Kicking & Screaming as an extended comedy sketch from Saturday Night Live.