Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Kicking & Screaming

Kicking & Screaming (Director: Jesse Dylan)

Dylan is Bob Dylan's son and brother of Wallflowers lead singer Jakob. Dylan's debut was 2001's How High, and then he directed the third of the American Pie movies, American Wedding. The script is from the writing team that brought us both of The Santa Clause movies and Space Jam. This is not to be confused with the hilarious 1995 Noah Baumbach film.

Here's a movie that appears to have had a darker motive and then was changed to accommodate a family audience. For awhile here, this movie walks along the edge of being a dark family comedy, and not in the amusing-for-kids Lemony Snicket's way, but in the way that the movie gets close to not being for kids at all. This movie probably barely earned its PG rating.

And it's a pity, really, that the movie wusses out in such a huge way. It begins as an innocent family soccer comedy, and then it gets really funny, and then dies. Will Ferrell plays Phil Weston, a man who has always felt the sting of his father Buck's (Robert Duvall) competitiveness. His father coaches a soccer team that he doesn't let his own grandson play on, and even trades him to an inferior team that is later coached by Phil himself. Not being able to get through to the misfits, Phil hires his father's neighbor and rival Mike Ditka, who infuses the movie with some bite, and he is instrumental in the recruiting of two Italian soccer studs to join the team. With their skill, the team starts winning, but at the price of everyone else's (especially his own son) playing time and fun.

In the middle of all of this, Phil discovers coffee. And in this period of time, Will Ferrell takes this movie over with some sheer hilarity. It's like a wake-up call for the comedian to go carte blanche with over-the-top zaniness, and for awhile there, this movie really kicks into gear--and veers into its dark territory. I thought for a moment there, this movie was attempting to really sneak one by family audiences, but it all falls apart. The signs of a different movie are here: Ferrell's coffee streak, blood-covered kids, cannibalism, and even lesbian mothers played by comediennes Rachael Harris and Laura Kightlinger (who, I'm sad to say, looks like she's gotten some work done to her beautiful face). There are a few other glimpses into what this probably was before it turned more family-friendly, and the movie suffers.

Another thing that suffers is the top-notch direction by Dylan. This has the look and feel, sometimes, of an "Arrested Development" episode, with documentary-style camera moves and editing. Dylan went balls-to-the-wall with the look and feel of this film. It's a crying shame what this movie could have been. I guarantee Richard Linklater's remake (the name and that word don't seem to go together) of The Bad News Bears doesn't make the same choices. Kicking & Screaming is very uneven, and I think family audiences lured by the promise of a summer all-ages outing are going to be a little put off, as are the Will Ferrell fans who come to see something a little edgier. Even the marketing of this film was uneven, beginning with the darker-themed trailer and then moving on to a lighter emphasis.

Such a damn shame.


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