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film review

Kevin James in a scene from “Here Comes the Boom”.Tracy Bennett/The Associated Press

A family movie that could lead to clan feuding, Here Comes the Boom is the story of a genial, overweight high school biology teacher. He's a couch potato who has begun to actually resemble a sofa, but when his impoverished school is about to lose its music program, Scott Voss (Kevin James) sucks in his stomach and puts up his dukes, successfully moonlighting as a UFC prize fighter.

A farther-fetched fantasy: In addition to asking we believe our loosely packed academic can play Rocky, Here Comes the Boom imagines a world in which butterball Everyman Scott and the fabulously lush Bella (Salma Hayek) might argue and bill and coo and eventually fall in love.

James, formerly TV's King of Queens, plays the film's unlikely hero with a light touch and comic ingenuity. He's good at rubbery pratfalls and wounded double-takes. Hayek, meanwhile, tackles the role of the high school's bawdy, wisecracking nurse like she's been studying old Joan Blondell movies, dispensing sour putdowns with surgical precision and clowning up a storm in a memorable full-contact date with her overly attentive admirer.

At its best, when James is mixing it up with Hayak and old pro Henry Winkler (the school's milquetoast music teacher), Here Comes the Boom achieves the breezy, off-hand charm of a broadly played TV sitcom. And younger viewers will get a kick out of Scott's showcase ring failures, which include a flying cannonball through a disintegrating ring. In another sequence, our crusading biology teacher twice spews a violent torrent of applesauce onto an opponent after taking a couple of piston jabs to his pillow-like stomach.

Speaking of digestive problems, many adults, even smart, cynical teenagers with a low tolerance for Hollywood civics lessons, might find themselves gagging on Here Comes the Boom's "serious" side, especially in the film's latter third, when filmmaker Frank Coraci (Zookeeper) gets all sanctimonious about America's imperilled public education system.

That's when the film turns into something perilously close to the "Yo Teach" segment from Funny People, itself a parody of big-hearted, deplorably unfunny classroom TV sitcoms such as Saved by the Bell. "Can anyone tell me what happens when a cell stagnates?" Scott asks his suddenly up-for-learning class, making a larger point about life and thwarted ambition.

Elsewhere, we have this corny-as-Kansas exchange between Scott and Bella before he steps into the ring, facing a dangerous, clearly superior opponent in a $50,000 prize fight that might save their school's cherished music program:

Her (pleading): "What are you teaching them if you go through with this?"

Him (chin up, eyes narrowing): "What am I teaching them if I don't?"

Ugh, pass the applesauce – but not too far. Here Comes the Boom will probably connect like a haymaker with most of its intended audience. The leads are likeable, and the plot, though beyond incredible, is at the very least distracting.

And if the movie only works for three-quarters of a family, well at least the unmoved parent and dissenting teenager get to enjoy a night out with popcorn, not to mention the sight of a younger member of the tribe whooping it up over this film year's most spectacular and longest lasting vomit sight gag.