After Old School, Anchorman and the all-conquering Elf, Will Ferrell could get his shopping list filmed. So when he and producer partner Jimmy Miller cooked up this Bad News Bears update built around the beautiful game, it probably didn't take long to find a studio willing to give them the ball and let them run with it.
But something's got cramp between pitch and, er, pitch. Yes, Kicking is boisterous, feel-good fun. Ferrell's in his element as the mild-mannered suburbanite turned ultra-competitive soccer dad, while Robert Duvall looks like he's having a ball in his first farce since M*A*S*H. But under the indulgent direction of Jesse Dylan (American Pie: The Wedding), neither ever breaks a sweat. Both could coast through the film with their eyes closed. And there are times - particularly during a midsection that's flabbier than Gazza's - when you're tempted to do the same.
The stars are more than capable of scoring laughs and there's a scene involving a one-sided bout of swingball that proves it. But all too often they're just not given the chance, thanks to so-so comic scenarios (lesbian parents, Italian soccer prodigies) that peter out faster than a Manchester City cup run. And then there's the mighty.... Mike Ditka. To US audiences, he's the legendary NFL coach breezily sending himself up as a neighbour of Buck's who agrees to train Phil's team. To British punters, he's a tubby, up-himself loudmouth who can't act his way out of a paper bag. Couldn't they just have hired Ron Atkinson?
So why three stars? Two words: Ron Burgundy. Even on autopilot, Ferrell's a gas, whether working himself up into "a tornado of anger" or mainlining on caffeine (""Coffee is the lifeblood that drives the dream of champions!"") - and while everyone around him seems happy to play out a goalless draw, he keeps punting his formidable comic energy skyward in the hope it'll reach the back of the net. It doesn't always, but when it does you love him all the more.
A flat-footed football comedy with more dribble than balls. But it has a star player in Ferrell's engaging, gleefully kooky performance.