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"A funny, yet predictable romp through the world of little league soccer."
"Ferrell finds his inner child and rambunctious self."
"Plenty of chuckles and charm to keep the ball rolling."
Kicking & Screaming  

Cast

Phil Weston: Will Ferrell
Buck Weston: Robert Duvall
Mark Avery: Steven Anthony Lawrence INTERVIEW
Bucky Weston: Josh Hutcherson
Sam Weston: Dylan McLaughlin
Stew: Scott Adsit
Himself: Mike Ditka
Review May 2005

When it comes to overindulgent behavior, Will Ferrell is king. In "Old School," his character goes berserk over alcohol, which subsequently earns him the nickname, Frank "The Tank." And in the family comedy, "Elf," his Buddy character can't seem to get enough candy. Now, in his latest comedy, "Kicking & Screaming," the obsession turns toward winning. Cast as Phil Weston, a quiet family man with a chip on his shoulder, Ferrell transforms into a hyper-crazed, win-at-all costs kind of coach. Much of this behavior is attributed to his father, Buck, who over the years has subjected him to his humiliating and competitive ways. And so, in an effort to get back at his father, Phil becomes the coach of his son's soccer team in a league where his father's team is the reigning champs. The end result is a funny, yet predictable romp through the world of little league soccer, where adults are very much a part of the game as their own children.

Ever since the day he was born, Phil Weston has been in competition with his father, Buck. Whether it's a friendly game of darts or comparing business successes, Buck has always managed to one-up him. When Phil proposed to his girlfriend, Barbara, Buck had already proposed to his sexy younger girlfriend, Janice. And when Phil's son, Sam, is born, Buck is on hand to welcome his second son, Bucky, who of course, is twice the size as Sam. And so it comes as no surprise, now ten years later, that Buck, coach of the little league Gladiators, trades his own grandson to an opposing team. That team, the Tigers, is in complete disarray, lacking the fundamentals and teamwork needed to win. And on top of that, their coach has recently abandoned them. Upon this discovery, Phil becomes infuriated. Determined to win his son's affection, he takes on the job of coach, hoping to give the team a fighting chance.

But winning proves difficult as Phil quickly learns that he does not have the skills to be a coach. And after further humiliation by his father, he decides to take matters into his own hands, hiring Buck's disgruntled neighbor - famed Hall of Fame coach, Mike Ditka. Ditka transforms the team from losers to winners through a variety of strategies, including the acquisition of two young Italian soccer prodigies. And he even helps Phil overcome his self doubts to become a competitive coach; however, like his father, Phil takes winning to the extreme, becoming arrogant and crazed. Although the team is winning and scheduled to play the Gladiators in the soccer league championship, Sam isn't playing. And with everything at stake, it will take a real sportsman to realize the error of his ways and help put the fun back in the game.

Will Ferrell has become one of the most successful comedians today because he continues to take risks. He continues to break free from stereotypes as well as the Saturday Night Live characters he's become affiliated with, allowing his talent and creativity to carry him. And after the woeful "Anchorman," Ferrell needed to rebound. He needed something safe. And that security blanket came in the form of "Kicking & Screaming." Although the film is far less risky than others like "Old School" and "Melinda and Melinda," Ferrell still manages to apply his own brand humor to his character, Phil Weston, an obsessive parent turned coach. Channeling some of the same energy that worked so well in "Elf," Ferrell finds his inner child and rambunctious self. Insecure, unstable, and na?ve, Ferrell's Weston goes from pushover to overbearing. And much of that centers on his manic addiction to coffee. Ferrell is a riot, launching a barrage of attacks at his opponents and their parents, not to mention a laughable confrontation with Mike Ditka involving a juice box.

Accompanying Ferrell is a surprising supporting cast consisting of an Academy Award winner, Robert Duvall, and a Pro Football Hall of Famer, Mike Ditka. Duvall, known for such heavy dramatics as "The Godfather," "The Great Santini," and "The Apostle," portrays Weston's father, Buck, with a great understanding of comedy. Overly machismo and tough, Duvall perfectly complements Ferrell's instability and shortcomings to comic delight. With snake eyes and a bully like laugh, he devilishly teases his son in a friendly game of tetherball. And when upset over a pile of leaves blown into his yard, he goes head to head in a shouting match with the bearish Mike Ditka, a confrontation of all confrontations. And speaking of Iron Mike, Ditka provides a pleasant jolt. In a role that is quite significant, he teaches the kids about being a winning team and Weston about being a winning coach. Literally, on the other side of the fence from Duvall, Ditka maintains a serious demeanor, but pokes fun at himself amicably through the use of cigars, coffee, and gum.

Because soccer is typically a low scoring affair, there is a tendency in film circles to concentrate exclusively on goal scoring or shots on goal. However, kudos to the filmmakers for bringing more to the table. In the film, the kids perform complex dribbling, passing, and juggling exercises, much of which can be attributed to Dan Metcalfe, winner of the Nike 2004 Boys Coach of the Year award, who coached the teams throughout and choreographed all the game sequences. It's spectacular; in particular, watching the talent of Alessandro Ruggiero and Francesco Liotti, two soccer enthusiasts elected to play the roles of the Italian boys, Massimo and Gian Piero. Contrary to what you might think, there is no trick photography, only strong soccer mechanics. However, a variety of camera techniques were used to pick up the action from a variety of angles - Steadicam, "doggy cam," and "lipstick cam."

Apart from Will Ferrell's antics and Phil's oddball relationship with his dad, the story is fairly conventional and predictable. Written by Steve Rudnick and Leo Benvenuti, co-writers of "The Santa Clause," "Kicking & Screaming" has many unique concepts: youth soccer, fanatical parents, and a bizarre father/son relationship. However, the main storyline appears to be torn from the pages of "The Bad News Bears." Substituting baseball for soccer, the bad news Tigers are full of bloopers and incompetence. They are embarrassed by many of the other soccer teams, who are much quicker, faster, and stronger. And unlike the other teams intent on winning, the Tigers just want to have fun. Additionally, each of the kids fits nicely into one-dimensional character traits - innocent, small, big, wise cracking, gross, and vision impaired. And while the film wisely shies away from an unrealistic total team transformation by infusing the squad with a dynamic twosome from Italy, it still manages to follow formula to the very end in a foreseeable showdown between Weston's Tigers and his father's Gladiators.

"Kicking & Screaming" is a formulaic comedy that pokes fun of the overzealous parent who re-lives his or her youth by taking an overactive part in their child's activities. Rather than love and encourage, these parents go overboard in their support, chastising coaches about playing time, arguing with referees about mistakes, and fighting with other parents and their children. It's an outrageous act of poor sportsmanship, which of course, makes for great comedy. And when you add Will Ferrell to the mix, things get out of hand in a heartbeat. Watching Ferrell's character change from a conservative and introverted family man into an obsessive, tyrannical coach is hysterical. And even though the majority of the story adheres to convention and many of the characters lack a certain depth, there are plenty of chuckles and charm to keep the ball rolling.



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