Do kids play baseball anymore? Kicking and Screaming, which stars Will Ferrell as a kids' coach who's a total klutz at sports, is the latest in a long line of Bad News Bears retreads, but the action's been shifted from the baseball diamond to the soccer field. Otherwise, you know the drill: A team of lovable losers transforms itself into a team of lovable winners, thanks in large part to the efforts of its cranky (but lovable!) coach. To its credit, Kicking and Screaming adds a few wrinkles to this tried-and-true formula. Ferrell's Phil Weston is a lovable loser himself ' an eager-to-please man-child for whom life is a series of pratfalls. But buried deep inside that pussycat exterior is a tiger screaming to be let out. All together now: MEEEOOOOOWWW!!!
Another wrinkle: The movie focuses more on the coaches than on the players. Smiling that crooked smile of his, Robert Duvall plays Buck Weston, father of Phil and the kind of guy who would trade his own grandson if he thought it would give his team an edge, which it would, so he does. This leads to Phil taking over the coaching duties for his son's new team and transforming, over time, from Big Bird to Godzilla. In the early going, he leads his multi-culti crew in a cuddle-huddle cheer: "1-2-3, let's have fun!" Later, he sends them back onto the field with "All right, let's break someone's clavicle...on three!" And in between are just enough laughs to keep our minds off the doggin'-it script by Leo Benvenuti and Steve Rudnick (the elves behind Santa Clause) and the all-thumbs direction of Jesse Dylan (American Wedding).
The son of Bob, Jesse Dylan must know a thing or two about oedipal conflicts, and Kicking and Screaming is prepared to pound on our funny bones to the point of tears. But the writing's just not there, forcing Ferrell and Duvall to rely on gags to carry their performances. Speaking of gags, Mike Ditka does a convincing impersonation of...Mike Ditka, who signs on as Phil's assistant coach. Given the task of whipping these kids into shape, Ditka threatens to fine each one of them $10,000. And if that doesn't strike you as amusing, you may want to sit this one out. There's a great comedy to be made from the hopes and dreams that coaches impose on their mini-me players, the field littered with broken clavicles. Alas, this isn't it.