Patron Pick – Kicking & Screaming

This special reward is available to Patreon patrons who pledge at the $10 or $20 monthly levels. Each month those patrons will pick a film for me to review. If they choose, they also get to include some of their thoughts about the movie. This Pick comes from Bekah Lindstrom.

Kicking & Screaming (2005)
Written by Leo Benvenuti & Steve Rudnick
Directed by Jimmy Miller

I’ve wondered a lot over the last decade, was Will Ferrell ever actually good? Or was he just benefitting from other people’s strong writing when we thought he was. I have managed to avoid some of his more toxic recent movies; a Patron may choose one in the coming months now that I’ve typed that out. Like almost everyone, I first saw Ferrell on Saturday Night Live when the big mid-90s reboot happened. It suddenly felt like the quality of SNL has improved. I’ve revisited those episodes since, and they were not as good as I thought then. Ferrell was a definite stand-out, so it didn’t surprise anyone when he transitioned to movies. Night at the Roxbury never crossed my radar, so Anchorman was where I first saw him on the big screen. Looking back, I think I liked Adam McKay’s writing, not necessarily Ferrell’s performances.

Kicking & Screaming (not Kicking and Screaming, Noah Baumbach’s 1995 post-college comedy, what a difference an ampersand makes) was the first film that left me cold regarding Ferrell. I saw it with my family a couple weeks after coming home from college in our local single-screen movie theater. Ferrell plays Phil Weston, a remarkably average man who lives in the shadow of his father, Buck (Robert Duvall, channeling a lesser version of The Great Santini). Buck’s over-competitiveness has left Phil quite scarred. Buck also coaches the Gladiators, a little league soccer team that Phil’s son Sam plays on. Grandpa keeps benching the grandson, which triggers Phil, so he moves Sam to a new team, the Tigers, whose coach is often absent. Phil decides he can coach his son’s team and goes through the sort of formulaic gags you might expect from a movie like this. Would you believe Phil and Buck work through their issues together and end up nicer to each other? It’s sitcom-level writing here.

This is not a terrible movie, but it is the sort of thing that, if I had seen it as a kid, my siblings and I would have mocked it endlessly. The infamous Tom Arnold comedy Car Pool held that spot for my siblings & me in the late 1990s. Ferrell can be entertaining, but that solely depends on who writes. The writing duo of Leo Benvenuti & Steve Rudnick are definitely different from the kind of guys whose work I like. Their most famous gig was writing The Santa Clause, another movie I have never enjoyed, and Space Jam. I don’t blame them entirely for that last one, as it was clearly a corporately constructed film. Benvenuti & Rudnick are writers that Hollywood executives like. Their work is inoffensive, white bread, bland. But that’s not a great fit for Ferrell.

The film knows what it wants to be, and its comedy heavily relies on two elements: 1) People getting hit & 2) lots of screaming. The first is a tried and true comedy trope dating back to the silent era, and the second not so much. Slapstick can be great if it is done cleverly. There is no cleverness here, folks. Soccer balls to groins and shoving children to the ground. While those might elicit a shocked laugh, they aren’t going to hold up to multiple viewings. It feels like an attempt to incorporate some barely edgy Family Guy type of shock humor but tempered by the even hand of a sitcom writer. The result is messy, the tone changes from scene to scene, and the editing is terrible. They tried to make a lot of gags funnier in the editing room, and it did not work.

You will see familiar comedic faces of the era popping up in minor roles. I spotted David Herman (Office Space), Martin Starr (Freaks & Geeks), Alex Borstein (Family Guy, MadTV), Laura Kightlinger (SNL), Scot Adist (30 Rock), and Rachael Harris (perennial one episode of sitcom appearance character actress). Kate Walsh is Ferrell’s wife, and baby Josh Hutcherson is Ferrell’s half-brother. I mostly found myself wishing I was watching something else these people had been in. Mike Ditka plays himself and is the only actor who feels like he was the best cast in the picture. He’s just a big dumb asshole, and that’s what the movie needed. 

I can’t say I was offended by this movie, I was just interminably bored. It felt like I’d seen this movie or variations of it so many times over the years. It does feel quaint now in the 2020s as every movie that gets a theatrical release has to have spent the GDP of a developing nation in the global south to have a chance. I would rather go back to a day with this sort of trash being shoveled into movie theaters than the even more boring & repetitive franchise IP movies. 

So, is Will Ferrell funny? I don’t think he is. He can be funny with material from specific writers. He’s been in funny movies, with Step-Brothers remaining one of my favorites, but I also don’t sleep on the underrated The Other Guys. The actor can’t make a good movie outside of working with Adam McKay. Holmes & Watson is proof of that. I also haven’t found his attempts at more serious films like Everything Must Go or Stranger Than Fiction to be good. He’s no Bill Hader, that’s for sure. Maybe one day he’ll find the suitable script, or perhaps he’ll just start doing ads for online gambling and crypto as so many Hollywood has-beens seem to be doing.


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