James raises ‘Boom’ with his gruff, goofy charm

SONY PICTURES Kevin James carries Henry Winkler in a scene from “Here Comes the Boom.”

Kid-friendly funnyman Kevin James is at his cuddliest in “Here Comes the Boom.” And he has to be.

This amusing but sometimes unsettling comedy marries the teacher-turns-to-mixed martial arts mayhem of “Warrior” to that wholesome family dramedy “Mr. Holland’s Opus.” It works, after a fashion. But that doesn’t mean you won’t wince.

James plays Scott Voss, a Boston high school biology teacher who is a decade past his Teacher of the Year days. He’s a burnout, habitually late for class, not shy about telling even that rare eager student (Filipino singer-actress Charice) that what he’s teaching “just doesn’t matter.”

But he’s touched by seeing that rare colleague who is still inspired and inspiring. And when put-upon Mr. Streb (Henry Winkler) and his music program are the first things on the chopping block when Principal Betcher (Greg Germann) has to slash the budget, Scott is moved to act. He’ll raise the $48,000 needed to save his friend’s job and his orchestra.

Bake sales won’t be enough, as the fetching school nurse (Salma Hayek) discovers. And part-time work teaching citizenship classes to immigrants won’t raise much cash either. But that collision with a collection of semi-stereotypes is where Scott meets the gregarious Niko, played with an amateurish verve by martial artist Bas Rutten.

Niko may teach “disco street fighting” classes at the health club down the street. But he used to be a mixed martial arts fighter. Scott persuades this Dutch (the accent comes and goes) brawler to train him so that he can get into the octagon, take a beating and get paid for it.

Which is what he does, running afoul of school policy and impressing the nurse, whom he flirts with constantly.

James is in trim fighting shape here.

And James, Winkler, Hayek and Rutten make an amusing ensemble and click together. The importance of high school music programs is emphasized, and the struggles schools face in tight times are played up.

Director Frank (“Zookeeper”) Coraci does a great job with the fights and the slapstick stuff, and keeps his camera pointed at James whenever possible.

But as “Here Comes the Boom” — that’s the song Scott wants to use as his enter-the-arena music — winds toward the ending that we all see coming, the violence can be a bit much. Mixed-martial arts is a bloody, brutal, brawling sport, and apparently the movie ratings board dozed off during the fights. It’s not a PG sport, and the graphic violence means this isn’t a PG movie.

But even though “Boom” doesn’t pull its punches, it’s still a lightweight genre picture, a patchwork comedy that makes good use of its biggest patch: James.