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Kicking and Screaming

Will Ferrell followed up his nearly perfect absurdist comedy Anchorman (2004) with the sloppy and dislocated Kicking and Screaming (2005), which only offers a handful of hearty laughs. Ferrell stars as Phil Weston, a sensitive and clumsy vitamin vendor cowed throughout his entire life by his super-competitive, sports-crazy dad, Buck (Robert Duvall). By no means a natural athlete, Phil's failure complex is exacerbated by his father's constant upstaging of other life events, like remarrying to coincide with Phil's wedding, resulting in the birth of Phil's brother, Bucky, on the same day as Phil's own son, Sam. Phil finally gets the opportunity to break out of his dad's psychological headlock when he agrees to coach Sam's motley soccer team, The Tigers, in the same league dominated by Buck and Bucky's ruthless Gladiators. Totally inept at coaching, and saddled with a team that make the Mighty Ducks and Bad News Bears look like perfect Olympians, Phil enlists Mike Ditka as his assistant coach and motivational mentor, and after a couple of drafted Italian ringers inspire a Tigers winning streak, Phil turns into a nightmarishly intense coach to rival his dad. Fans of will Ferrell will likely find most of Kicking and Screaming amiable and mildly amusing, despite the only big laughs coming during Phil's hyper-caffeinated rantings late in the film. Overall, however, it seems awkwardly stuck between its aspirations toward inoffensive family friendly entertainment and Ferrell's inspired-but-muted gaggery, and the result is that neither aspect of the movie is successful. Too much of the boilerplate-underdog plot is spent on the young soccer players, but their characters are never developed beyond a few gimmicky traits that fail to warrant the switch of focus away from Ferrell's more engaging hijinks, and Ferrell is too restrained by the kid-friendly orientation to cut loose and deliver the goods. Soccer fans may appreciate that Kicking and Screaming is one of the few American movies about the sport that includes at least some convincing footage (Italians Francesco Liotti and Alessandro Ruggiero appear to be truly gifted athletes), but too much of the rest of the movie is weakly drawn and offers little in the way of payoffs. Written by Leo Benvenuti and Steve Rudnick, the team responsible for The Santa Clause and Space Jam, and directed by Jesse (son of Bob) Dylan, of the abysmal American Pie sequel, American Wedding. Universal's DVD release of Kicking and Screaming presents a fine anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. The disc contains reels of deleted scenes, alternate takes and outtakes, plus the featurettes, "From Rome to Hollywood" about the young Italian soccer players-turned-actors Liotti and Ruggiero, "Kickin' It with the Kids" about the other young cast members, "Soccer Camp" about preparation for the sport sequences, and the EPK "Behind the Net: The Making of Kicking & Screaming." Trailer, keep-case.
—Gregory P. Dorr

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