- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 12, 2005

Somehow, the script for Eddie Murphy’s next kiddie film skipped his desk and found its way into Will Ferrell’s in-box.

How else to explain “Kicking & Screaming,” a sports comedy that combines the flattest elements of “The Mighty Ducks” and “The Bad News Bears” while wasting Mr. Ferrell’s bizarro comic rhythms?

The “Saturday Night Live” graduate stands at the peak of his powers after “Elf” and “Anchorman,” yet he somehow squeezed “Kicking” between projects such as “Melinda and Melinda” and the forthcoming “Bewitched.”

Maybe he’s cleansing his palate — but that doesn’t mean we have to like it.

Mr. Ferrell plays Phil, a milquetoast dad who agrees to coach his son’s soccer team when the regular coach checks out. Phil is in over his head, a fact amplified by the league’s super coach, who just happens to be Phil’s father (Robert Duvall in paycheck-pickup mode).

Think “The Great Santini” but without … better yet, don’t. Viewers would be wise not to conjure one of Mr. Duvall’s signature performances while watching him shuffle around this lazy affair.

Dear ol’ Dad never gave Phil much in the way of respect and as an adult delights in putting Phil down in every way possible.

But if Phil’s team of rugrats actually beats Dad’s squad, years of misery will come to an end, or so Phil hopes.

To beat the old man at his game, Phil brings in two ringers. First up are a pair of Italian children who speak no English but make Freddy Adu look like he has two left feet.

Phil also gets a hand from his father’s next-door neighbor, who happens to be football legend Mike Ditka. The crotchety coach plays himself in a role far too large for a nonactor to inhabit.

By the final reel, Phil will realize it’s all just a game and snap out of his frenzy, but the road getting there will be torturous for most parents. Director Jesse Dylan displays an alarming inability to stage slapstick gags and is even worse when trying to coax humor out of his young cast.

“Kicking & Screaming” can’t be bothered with being a send-up of kiddie sports and the parents who can make the pastime an ordeal. Nor does it give Mr. Ferrell a single moment where he can prove why his star is burning so brightly at this moment in pop culture.

The biggest burst of humor, and it’s more like a trickle than a downpour, comes with Phil’s sudden infatuation with coffee. Entire chunks of “Kicking” are dedicated to him finding, and fighting over, the next cup of Joe. The lack of comic payoff in one particular set piece is alarming.

“Kicking & Screaming” is the sort of undemanding fare parents endure to keep their children happy for 90 minutes. Why Mr. Ferrell chose to endure shooting it is anybody’s guess.

*1/2

TITLE: “Kicking & Screaming”

RATING: PG (comic violence, sophomoric sight gags and crude language)

CREDITS: Directed by Jesse Dylan. Written by Steve Rudnick and Leo Benvenuti.

RUNNING TIME: 87 minutes

WEB SITE: www.kickingandscreamingmovie.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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