Kicking & Screaming (2005)

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Kicking & Screaming (2005) Movie Review

Shame is the name of the game in Kicking & Screaming. Will Ferrell's latest outing finds the funnyman trading his Anchorman hairpiece and crippling ego for a clipboard and whistle so he can coach his son's last-place soccer club. The concept comedy comes off as an excuse to have Ferrell yelling at innocent children for two hours, but the script by Leo Benvenuti and Steve Rudnick explores alternating levels of humiliation and redemption that bring Screaming to emotional corners you might not expect to visit.

An unhealthy level of competition exists between Phil (Ferrell) and his father, Buck (Robert Duvall). The day that Phil announced his engagement, Buck stole his thunder. They even had baby boys on the same day. Buck's boy weighed one ounce more than Phil's, of course. The rivalry has continued.

Screaming kicks into gear when Buck, who coaches the dominant Gladiator soccer squad, trades Phil's boy Sam (Dylan McLaughlin), a bench warmer, to a losing squad. Sensing his son's disappointment, Phil agrees to take the struggling team's reins. He hopes at first to maintain a sense of fun, but is overwhelmed by the need to compete with his father and win at all costs.

Ferrell stoops to surprising lows for laughs as he cuts loose within a familiar "zeroes to heroes" story. Phil's team, the Tigers, serves as the Bad News Bears of soccer. The misfit club boasts a wisecracker (Steven Anthony Lawrence), an extra-large lunk with motivation issues (Erik Walker) and pint-sized Byong Sun (Elliot Cho), the adopted child of lesbian parents. Phil manages to score former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka as an assistant (there are complicated reasons), and recruits two secret weapons he finds in a butcher shop, of all places.

Screaming is Ferrell's most accessible comedy. The PG rating opens the door for kids and families who first caught Ferrell in his hip-hugging Elf tights. In addition, Phil is easily Ferrell's most relatable character, an "everyman" role that should attract fathers, sons, underdogs, champions, good winners and, best of all, sore losers.

Thankfully, Phil's not the overbearing ogre that's heavily promoted in the misleading trailers. He's a sensitive soccer dad who happens to harbor some serious doses of suppressed rage. He's a suburban Bruce Banner hiding an incredible hulk of a proud parent. Ferrell's approach makes Phil an easy character to root for, which isn't always the case when the comedian rolls out a new personality. It's only when Phil embraces his inner Dr. Phil that he's able to notice his son, recognize the impact of his father's influence, and reconnect with the reasons why he took the coaching job in the first place.

Ferrell's goofy comedy is an acquired taste, and director Jesse Dylan (American Wedding) figures out how to display his star without cramping the film's style. He doesn't overcomplicate his comedy, content to let sequences play themselves out to a natural punch line. Dylan knows when jokes need time - Screaming boasts a brilliant running joke about Phil's obsession with coffee - and when it's simply appropriate to point the camera at a topless Ferrell playing tetherball and wait for the laughter.

Ferrell's unique delivery also keeps sagging jokes afloat. He subliminally drops improvised lines that you'll pick up on repeat viewings. I already know I'll laugh even harder when I revisit Ditka's knockout punch, Phil's celebration dance with Byong Sun, the coffee shop meltdown, and the soccer team's strut off the back of a meat truck - perhaps the best use of the trademark slow-motion Armageddon group walk in recent memory. These sequences, and several more, all but guarantee that Screaming will be much funnier on DVD. Ferrell's movies always are.



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Kicking & Screaming (2005) Rating

" Excellent "


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