Dir:Jesse Dylan. US. 2005. 93mins.
WillFerrell's comic talents are used to very variable effect in Kicking &Screaming, a haphazard family comedy that attempts to combine kid-friendlyhumour with something a bit edgier for youngish parents. It's the kind of safefamily film that sometimes finds a surprisingly large audience, and Ferrell'sgrowing star power will certainly boost its appeal. But this particular exampleof the genre seems likely to fare much better in the DVD marketplace than thetheatrical arena.
Universalreleases the Mosaic Media Group production in the US on May 13, in the briefsummer season window before the arrival of such potential family blockbustersas the final Star Wars and Madagascar. The film's footballbackdrop should help attract kids (soccer being hugely popular as a children'ssport in the US) and Ferrell will pull in the adults. Yet even with thoseattractions, the final box office take will probably fall well short of the$100-plus achieved by recent family comedies like Daddy Day Care and ThePacifier.
Thefilm hits many international territories in the school holiday months of June,July and August. The football theme will provide a useful internationalmarketing hook, but Ferrell, whose US hits Elf and Anchormanweren't as big internationally, won't have quite the same pulling power outsidethe States, so securing significant theatrical audiences could be even tougher.
Thestory puts a modern-parenting spin on the by now familiar Bad News Bearsscenario. Ferrell's Phil Weston is a mild mannered vitamin salesman who stilllives in the shadow of his aggressively macho father Buck (Duvall).
WhenPhil reluctantly takes over as coach of his 10-year-old son's hopeless footballteam he at first tells the kids to worry more about having fun than winning.
Butthe prospect of beating the league leading team coached by theultra-competitive Buck soon transforms Phil into a crazed football tyrant whourges his team to do anything for victory.
WithJesse Dylan (American Wedding) directing from a clunky script by LeoBenvenuti and Steve Rudnick (writers of family hits The Santa Clause andits sequel), the film makes Phil's transformation no more believable - it'striggered by a sudden caffeine addiction - than his later return to sanity.
Thefather-son relationship between Phil and Buck is played mostly for broadlaughs, but it often has an uncomfortably antagonistic edge to it. Entirelymissing are the sort of slyly touching moments that Ferrell had with James Caanand Bob Newhart in his previous family outing Elf.
LikeElf, Kicking & Screaming makes some physical comedy out ofthe contrast between the tall, gangly Ferrell and more diminutive cast members.And there are a couple of funny monologues, as when the coffee-fuelled Philprods his players to 'break people's clavicles, but don't getcaught.' But as the film progresses it comes to rely a bit too much onFerrell's solo shtick.
Surprisingly,the child actors playing the members of Phil's team don't get that much screentime (other than during the uneventful football sequences) or many cute lines.
Someof the funnier moments, in fact, come from the interplay between Duvall's Buckand a grouchy neighbour, played, as himself, by legendary former Americanfootball coach Mike Ditka. Ditka's real life reputation as a sporting hotheadadds a nice twist to the story - his character is briefly enlisted as Phil'sassistant coach - though the effect will be lost on most audiences outside theUS.
Prodcos: UniversalPics, Mosaic Media Group
US dist: Universal
Int'l dist: UIP
Exec prods: Charles Roven, Judd Apatow, Daniel Lupi
Scr: LeoBenvenuti, Steve Rudnick
Prod des: Clayton R Hartley
Eds: StuartPappe, Peter Teschner
Main cast: Will Ferrell, Robert Duvall, Kate Walsh, Mike Ditka, Josh Hutcherson