I thoroughly enjoyed this film. Emily and I watched it and enjoyed it, and then let the girls watch it and they loved it. It’s fairly formulaic as a fighter movie with fights and training montages and all, but the differences between this film and others in the genre are small but significant.
First, Kevin James is reliably funny. Admittedly, I’m not a hard sell on the heavy, charming, funny, slightly sarcastic protagonist with a good heart, but James’ character of high school teacher Mr. Voss is perfect. Add in actual mixed martial art (MMA) legends for Voss’ trainers, Henry Winkler as the band teacher and Selma Hayek as the love interest, and you’ve got a solid cast.
James’ Voss is a burned out high school teacher who has just enough of a good heart to find himself volunteering (almost unintentionally) to raise money to save the band teacher’s (Winkler) department and job from impending budget cuts. When he discovers that an MMA fighter won $10,000 for losing a fight, the gameplan is in place. Voss, a former Division I collegiate wrestler, comes across a former MMA fighter and trainer (Bas Rutten, who steals the show with some of the funnier moments in the film) in the US citizenship night class he teaches and convinces him to train him for MMA. Insert training/early round montage here.
The heart of this film is what made it for me. As it turns out, Kevin James is a practicing Christian and that faith finds its way into the film in several organic and not heavy-handed ways. In addition to the over-arching plot thrust of literally laying down one’s life for his friends, there are also scenes that honor the pre-meeting prayer of an AA meeting, a reference to Genesis 32’s story of Jacob wrestling with God, and a pre-fight prayer.
The language is clean, the faith is real, and the film has a good heart. While there is the inherent violence of MMA bouts and training, none of it was gratuitous. One of my favorite films ever.