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COFFEE, CORNER KICKS, DADS AND DITKA ADD TO THE GAME.

Byline: Bob Strauss Film Critic

A SCORE'S a score. And ``Kicking & Screaming'' scores, even if it's not playing a very challenging game.

A formula kids' sports comedy that wisely keeps its focus on the most overgrown child, this suburban soccer farce presents an almost human side of Will Ferrell. And you know what? He's funnier than ever playing a regular guy. Or, at least, trying to.

Ferrell's perennial loser, Phil Weston, grew up in the long, life-darkening shadow of his A-personality dad, Buck (Robert Duvall, spoofing his ``Great Santini'' domestic tyrant with remarkable, twinkle-toed grace). Buck owns a bunch of Chicago sporting-goods stores and put his unathletic son through a miserable childhood of trying and failing to compete and win.

When Coach Buck trades his own grandson to the losingest team in the local youth soccer league, Phil's unresolved anger boils over hilariously. He ends up coaching the hopeless Tigers, though he hasn't a clue how to do it. Fortunately, Buck's neighbor Mike Ditka, played by Mike Ditka, hates his guts, so he agrees to be Phil's assistant coach. Unfortunately, Mike Ditka knows how to coach football, not soccer.

Ditka proves an effortless scream as his grumpy, uncompromising self. His controlled fury is an effective balance to Ferrell's manic neuroticism, even though, as the devil's own henchman, Ditka introduces the already jumpy Phil to the dubious joys of coffee.

Duvall, too, is wryly assured as the confident, competitive Buck. But it's Ferrell's increasingly hysterical performance as an over-caffeinated innocent, addled by the blood scent of victory and finally getting Dad's goat, that really moves the ball down the field.

The director, ``American Wedding's'' Jesse Dylan, may be the first guy who really knows how to harness Ferrell's goofy energy on the big screen. He actually finds the right moments of stillness in the actor, which even Woody Allen couldn't locate during ``Melinda and Melinda.'' The character's outbursts are all the funnier when we know that the guy isn't always amped up to 11. He may be a comedy movie conceit, but Phil never becomes the kind of cartoon Ferrell embodied in ``Anchorman,'' ``Elf'' and ``Old School.''

It also must be assumed that Dylan, who will always be referred to as Son-of-Bob no matter what he accomplishes in life, has a deep understanding of what never living up to your dad is like. ``Kicking & Screaming's'' take on that is mainly burlesque, of course, but the cross-generational resentment is unusually persuasive for this kind of thing. This may indeed be a sports comedy for kids, but its underlying issues are as grown-up as they get.

Bob Strauss, (818) 713-3670

bob.strauss(at)dailynews.com

KICKING & SCREAMING - Three stars

(PG: language)

Starring: Will Ferrell, Robert Duvall, Mike Ditka, Kate Walsh.

Director: Jesse Dylan.

Running time: 1 hr. 27 min.

Playing: In wide release.

In a nutshell: Amusing enough Ferrell comedy has him coaching a kids' losing soccer team while coping with his winning-is-everything father.

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Will Ferrell tries to get out from under his father's shadow by coaching a youth soccer team in ``Kicking & Screaming.''
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:May 13, 2005
Words:515
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