'Kicking & Screaming': Coming Soon to a TV Screen Near You

By Ann Hornaday
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 13, 2005

It's no secret these days that Hollywood is in the midst of a downward spiral at the box office, an indication that movies have ceased to be events in themselves and instead have become advertisements for their far more profitable home video versions.

Such is "Kicking & Screaming," as lazy, bloated and TV-screen-friendly as shameless promos come. A starchy, lethargic vehicle for "Saturday Night Live" veteran Will Ferrell, this mishmash of slapstick and satire is putatively about the world of Little League soccer. But families looking for a good time at a movie about kids' sports might want to wait for Richard Linklater's promising adaptation of "Bad News Bears."

In the meantime, viewers will most likely do what the producers of "Kicking & Screaming" had in mind anyway: Wait for the video, then doze off during that. Anemically directed by Jesse Dylan (who was responsible for the execrable "American Wedding"), "Kicking & Screaming" features Ferrell in the role of Phil Weston, a sweet-natured family man whose father, Buck (Robert Duvall), is a viciously competitive sporting goods salesman.

Events conspired to make Phil and Buck new dads at the same time, and 10 years later they find themselves coaching their sons' opposing soccer teams, Buck with scarily professional grit and Phil with all the ferocity of a sponge cake (he gives the team pet finches after their first game). Soon, however, Phil brings in a ringer in the form of an assistant played by legendary former Chicago Bears football coach Mike Ditka, who proceeds to browbeat his young charges into shape. "If you were Bears I'd fine each of you $10,000," he growls during a lackluster practice.

To no one's surprise, least of all the audience's, Phil's team begins to win and Phil himself begins to take on the very qualities he always loathed in his own father. "Kicking & Screaming," which is credited to the screenwriters Leo Benvenuti and Steve Rudnick but has the feel of something that's been extruded through the Hollywood script mill, exists primarily for Ferrell to ham it up at the business end of a soccer ball. There's the requisite shot of the stray kick to Ferrell's nether regions, natch, but most of the comedy has to do with him getting slapped in the face, over and over. Few of these gags do adequate justice to Ferrell's gifts for mimicry and physical comedy, and to say that Duvall is slumming might be the understatement of the season.

Ironically, it's Ditka who comes off best in "Kicking & Screaming," providing a weirdly assured sense of ballast in an otherwise ramshackle series of shaky close-ups and frantically sped-up game sequences. (It might interest viewers to know that director Dylan is the son of Bob, brother of Jakob. Discuss among yourselves.) Those, of course, will seem more smoothed out once "Kicking & Screaming" reaches its intended destination, the small screen.

But if its made-for-TV sensibility explains its chaotically blobby shooting style, it doesn't clarify a plot so painfully padded that it looks for laughs in strange digressive asides regarding bratwurst and coffee. Indeed, caffeine winds up taking an improbably central role in "Kicking & Screaming," so much so that it literally upstages the soccer. It might be a sure sign that a sports comedy is in trouble when the climactic scene involves two kids kicking over a cappuccino machine.

Kicking & Screaming (95 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG for adult themes, mild profanity and some crude humor.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company