Film ó Kicking and Screaming (PG)

Kicking and Screaming (PG)

by Amy Diaz

Will Ferrell auditions for the next Everybody Loves Raymond-ish television series in Kicking and Screaming, another Bad News Bears-retread with sitcom characters and stale laugh lines.

How stale? We get several ball/head/other object-hits-the-crotch gags. Actually, ever other joke seems to be of the physical comedy variety ó usually in the form of Will Ferrell getting smacked in the face or chest or, again, genital area. Kate Walsh, the actress who plays Ferrellís wife, is so TV-bland that itís surprising he can even pick her out of the sensible-clothes-and-mom-hair crowd. Even the usually great Robert Duvall seems like a rip-off of other, more entertaining supporting characters  ó Hank Hillís shinless father on King of the Hill, for example.

Phil Weston (Ferrell) is an EverySchlub who is pained to see his son Sam (Dylan McLaughlin) warm the bench at his soccer games. The coachís unwillingness to play Sam stings even more because the coach is Buck Weston (Duvall), Philís dad. The teamís star player also rubs Phil the wrong way ó itís his dadís son by a much younger woman, Bucky (Josh Hutcherson).

Phil, who has never lived up to his sports-gear-selling dadís idea of manhood, is even more angered when he finds out that his dad has traded Sam to another, far worse team. Sam shows up for practice to the barely-a-team Tigers but the coach doesnít. With other parents unwilling to do so, Phil decides to coach the team, both to give his son a crack at some field time and in the desperate hope of beating or at least matching his father. At first, this seems unlikely with the teamís players more likely to run screaming away from the ball than to successfully score a goal. But then Phil decides to bring on his dadís hyper-competitive neighbor ó one Mr. Mike Ditka (played with some skill by Mike Ditka himself). Ditka may not see Super Bowl potential in the team but he is able to get the boys to kick the ball and he figures out how to improve the teamís chances by bringing on two ringers ó Italian boys who can bend it like Beckham.

The movie takes such a remarkably predictable road that watching the journey seems to take an unbearably long time. The team wins, they enjoy winning, Phil becomes even more competitive with his father, he begins to exhibit all his fatherís worst properties, he has an over-the-top moment, lessons are learned and then thereís the big game. The movie may be only about an hour and a half but it seems to take a lifetime to slog through jokes that were faded when they appeared on ABCs TGIFriday line-up 15 years ago. As much of a Will Ferrell fan as Iím not, I felt cheated ó Ferrell can do far better than this. His zaniness and natural comic talents seem to be smothered by the solve-the-problems-in-the-half-hour mentality and manufactured sentimentality of the family drama.

Schlubby dad with smart wife and kid and wacky family? Why pay for it when you can get it free nightly in syndication?

- Amy Diaz

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