The story of the underdog overcoming unfathomable odds to beat the best at what they do is nothing new. And movies with Kevin James acting like a lovable schlub just trying to do some good aren’t exactly breaking new ground either.

Which brings us to Here Comes the Boom, the story of lovable high school biology teacher Scott Voss (James) who decides to take up mixed martial arts to help fund his school’s extra-curricular programs, which are being cut due to budget constraints.

Not unlike The Karate Kid or Rocky or any number of similar movies, Boom is inspirational, sure, and it’s very easy to root for the good guy as he begins his fight career getting his butt handed to him. What helps it succeed, though only marginally, is that James has finally learned that he can be funny without trying so hard to be the next Adam Sandler.

By and large, subtle suits James best. Given the opportunity here to show off his comic timing without acting like a buffoon, he’s able to keep Boom from becoming what, by all rights, it should have been– another tired, goofball, overly broad comedy that gets forgotten a week after its release.

Instead, Boom redeems itself and survives as a halfway-decent family film (but for the un-family-friendly fight scenes).

Directed by frequent Sandler (and, more recently, James) collaborator Frank Coraci, Here Comes the Boom touches on every cliche you could think of. Voss starts out as a lazy slacker, he devotes all his time to hitting on the hottest thing on two legs (in this case Salma Hayek as Bella, the school nurse), he finally sees the light and starts training, and just as he’s on the verge of earning enough money to keep his high school afloat, a wrench is thrown in the works.

But have no fear, dear viewer, we’re sure something will happen in time to save the day and win the girl.

No, screenwriter Allan Loeb (James is also credited as co-writer) will not hear his name called on Oscar weekend, but he shouldn’t hear it called for Razzie consideration either; Here Comes the Boom brings enough heart and charm to land at least a few solid punches, and James, Hayek, and Henry Winkler (as the marked-for-a-pink-slip music teacher who becomes Voss’s ringside buddy) keep the silliness to a minimum by deciding that less is sometimes a whole lot more.

3/5 stars