The term “Bountygate” carries a negative stigma around the NFL. The scandal, unearthed between 2011-12, centered around the coaches of the New Orleans Saints agreeing to pay their defensive players extra money – or a “bounty” – if they were to inflict bodily harm on the opposition. The bounty program was in effect in the Saints organization from 2009-11, and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and head coach Sean Payton faced suspensions when the media found out about it.
The details of Bountygate and its repercussions on the league and the men involved could power a compelling drama, something along the lines of Peter Landesman’s Concussion starring Will Smith. Instead, for reasons I’m still not able to decipher, producers at Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison productions got ahold of the story and attempted to fashion it into a goofy Kevin James vehicle co-starring Rob Schneider, Twilight’s Taylor Lautner, and a gaggle of good-natured kids playing all manor of sports-movie cliches. It’s a terrible approach to the subject matter, and it basically dooms Charles and Daniel Kinnane’s Home Team from the start.
Sean Payton’s NFL suspension is a really strange subject for a family comedy.
I’m not saying it’s impossible to make a comedy out of something as vicious as a pay-for-pain scandal such as Bountygate. Heck, Adam McKay turns unusual topics such as fraudulent mortgages and the political aspirations of Dick Cheney into biting satires. But Home Team doesn’t figure out how to seamlessly balance the brutality of Payton’s expulsion with the underdog formula of a terrible team turning it around with the right leadership.
Because Home Team never properly justifies why it decided to cast Kevin James as a real-life NFL coach (one who is still in the headlines, due to a recent decision to leave the Saints after years), the use of Payton’s story as source material distracts from the by-the-numbers sports story co-directors Charles and Daniel Kinnane set out to tell.
Remove any mention of Sean Payton or the Saints from Home Team and the story remains exactly the same… and incredibly familiar. You get the impression that Happy Madison already had a generic football-coach comedy screenplay in its stable – a Waterboy-lite story of a terrible team turning it around – and only threw this into production because Payton gave them the rights to his story. The two pieces never click.
Kevin James deserves better than the Adam Sandler formula.
Kevin James has been part of Adam Sandler’s comedy universe since 2004’s 50 First Dates, expanding his role in features such as Grown Ups, Hubie Halloween, and the animated Hotel Transylvania series. But while Sandler periodically challenges himself in dramatic fare like Uncut Gems, James appears content to coast along in projects that play like junior varsity Sandler concepts.
Movies like Home Team don’t even ask a lot of James. His take on Sean Payton is to play straight man to an assortment of predictably idiotic side characters, from Rob Schneider’s Zen-like pacifist who married Payton’s ex-wife (Jackie Sandler, Adam’s wife), to the clueless clerk at Payton’s hotel, who’s unable to do anything right. Bored with the lack of opportunities presented by playing Payton, James also wears a bushy mustache and an oversized cap to play an accident-prone assistant coach who needs to ride a bicycle everywhere because he lost his driver’s license due to drunk driving.
None of this, as you can imagine, is funny – and every aspect of the football plotline in Home Team is as predictable and lazy as you fear, from the fat kid ordering pizzas to the locker room to the handsome young coach (Lautner) who doesn’t understand the game. Really, though, it’s disappointing seeing Kevin James stoop to this.
Unlike, say, Schneider, who only seems to work when Sandler beckons, James seems like he could excel in superior roles. To be fair, he has been taking chances on thrillers like Becky or Little Boy in the past few years. But personally, I’d love to see him take more of them, and pass on these admittedly easy Happy Madison paycheck gigs.