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Chicagoist Has A Fever And The Only Prescription Is More Ditka

By Scott Smith in Arts & Entertainment on May 9, 2005 2:17PM

Chicagoist’s love for the 1995 collegiate male bonding film Kicking and Screaming has been well documented in this space. In a time when indie films of people sitting around talking were being churned out as fast as Parker Posey could make them, K&S earned a special place in our hearts if only for the scene with the “Broken Glass” sign.

So we were all set to dislike the new kiddie soccer film Kicking and Screaming, which arrives in theaters this Friday. How dare this Johnny-come-lately try to muscle its way into the public’s consciousness! (Never mind that the first film isn’t exactly tripping off the lips of the movie-going public). News of Will Ferrell in the lead role softened our indignation, as did the trailer featuring Robert Duvall and Mike Ditka as Ferrell’s assistant coach. Then last week when we received an invitation to a free screening that began “Coach Ditka invites you...” we figured “What the hell. At least we’ll get to see Mike Ditka’s hair.”

As veterans of the free screening scene, we arrived at the AMC an hour ahead of time and one. Huh? Where are the people with clipboards? Where’s the tubby guy who’s always angling for free2005_05_09_ditka.jpg shit? Twenty minutes before the show began, a respectable crowd had formed as people began murmuring “Mike Ditka’s down there!” As Da Coach arrived, we pulled out our camera to document the event and...well, you can see the result at right. We swear that’s the back of Ditka’s head. Honest. If those kids hadn't been in the way...well, it would still be a crap shot. But you can sorta see the Super Bowl ring.

Since this was a benefit for After School Matters—a non-profit after-school program chaired by Maggie Daley—the usual film geek crowd was replaced by lots of families, NBC 5 public relations folks and supporters of the charity. As NBC 5 President Larry Wert began the introductions, he mentioned there were “two coaches” in the audience that afternoon: “a real one and one who plays one onscreen.” He then mentioned some chaos at Wrigley (Chicagoist’s sports department filled us in on those details later) and introduced the fake coach...Will Ferrell! We turned around in disbelief and holy shit it IS Will Ferrell, hiding under a Cubs hat. They must have snuck him in here while Ditka distracted us. It was everything we could do to avoid yelling “more cowbell” as the lights dimmed.

As for the movie itself, it’s a decent family flick but it’s got the marks of a director who’s either not found his footing yet or doesn’t have the clout to say “no” to studio tinkering. Since director Jesse Dylan’s (yes, he’s one of those Dylans) track record thus far includes the unnecessary American Wedding and the Method Man/Redman vehicle How High, it could go either way. Formulaic films aren’t always bad (see School of Rock) but this one only gets by thanks to Ferrell’s trademarked (ad-libbed?) line readings and the charisma of Ditka.

Yeah, you heard us. Ditka. Roeper had it right last week; the man turns in a performance as good as Duvall (who includes a brief homage to his role in The Great Santini here). You could say that Ditka’s got an advantage since he’s only playing himself but need we remind you of the cold dishrag of a performance given by Brett Fav-ruh in There’s Something About Mary? And that was what? Three minutes? Put it this way: if Ditka had the Shaq role in Kazaam then Paul Michael Glaser wouldn’t have had to go back to directing television.

While the combined powers of Ferrell and Ditka aren’t enough to recommend you see the film in theaters, it’s definitely worth a rental. And we can honestly say it’s our 2nd favorite film called Kicking and Screaming.