The order of importance is unclear since James spends much more time in the embrace of sweaty tattooed males than he does in the arms of Hayek. Come to think of it, he never is in the arms of Hayek.
Is there a homoerotic theme here? Hmmm. Make no mistake though, this is a film of passion.
The key passion evidently comes from its star, co-writer and co-producer Kevin James. He loves MAA. He even trains in the sport with longtime coach Bas Rutten, for whom he lovingly crafts a major supporting role as — what else? — his character’s trainer.
Another famed fighter, former Muay Thai kick boxer Mark DellaGrotte, plays himself as do several other figures in MMA, a sport that throws together boxing, karate, jiu-jitsu, judo, kickboxing, wrestling and just about every other way you can do serious bodily harm to an opponent.
So that pretty much explains where the real passion here lies. Take that, Salma Hayek.
The movie itself, directed by Frank Coraci, is pure formula with rote characters and predictable story lines so you have to look past the movie to find its qualities.
The first would be James himself, a decent enough comic actor who clearly wants to a movie about his favorite sport and trained mightily — or so press notes claim — for 14 months to look as great and believable as he does.
He begins the movie as a slobby high-school biology teacher named Scott Voss, barely awake for his own classes. Then overnight he becomes the terror of the cage in a ferocious quest to earn enough money to save his Boston school’s music program.
Yeah, I know, this doesn’t make a lot of sense. You create a guy who shows up for classes wasted and cares about no one except maybe the school nurse — of course, it’s Hayek — only to transform himself into an athletic Don Quixote the next minute.
Nothing in the script James wrote with Allan Loeb even motivates Scott’s sudden interest in another teacher’s job, this being a music instructor played with perhaps too much enthusiasm by Henry Winkler.
Characters pop up on cue to question the wisdom of earning money in such a health-threatening manner, to train him, to coax and/or admonish him and finally to tell him that he has become a much more dedicated teacher because of the MMA experience.
This is a movie where the viewer is told the story rather than being shown the story.
At one point, Scott takes over, ever so briefly, a class for foreign nationals eager to earn U.S. citizenship. There is no point to this other than for him to meet Rutten — and to wave the flag unnecessarily.
There are two other puzzling moments, no doubt due to post-production editing. In the first, the father of his favorite pupil, played by youthful singing star Charice, shows up in the principal’s office to complain bitterly about Scott’s advice to ignore her father’s demand to give up music to work in the family restaurant.
In a later scene, the father is overjoyed by Scott’s help in turning the restaurant into a booming success. One problem: Scott never does anything to contribute to the restaurant’s new-found success.
The film’s strong points include Charice, the staging of the matches and the overall exuberance of Bas Rutten, a Dutch scenery chewer who apparently has never even acted before. Some things just come naturally.
The negatives are far too many, but suffice it to say they include implausible plot twists, forced comedy and a failure to give Hayek anything more to play other than James’ “love interest.”
Come to think of it, there must be a homoerotic theme lurking here.
Opens: October 12, 2012 (Columbia Pictures)
Production companies: A Hey Eddie/Broken Road/Happy Madison production
Cast: Kevin James, Salma Hayek, Henry Winkler, Greg Germann, Joe Rogan, Gary Valentine, Charice, Bas Rutten Reggie Lee.
Director: Frank Coraci
Screenwriters: Allan Loeb & Kevin James
Producers: Todd Garner, Kevin James
Executive producers: Jeff Sussman, Marty P. Ewing, Adam Sandler, Jack Giarraputo
Director of photography: Phil Méheux
Production designer: Perry Andelin Blake
Music: Rupert Gregson-Williams
Costume designer: Hope Hanafin
Editor: Scott Hill
105 rating, PG minutes