Kevin Can Wait: is Kevin James an acting genius or a one-trick pony?

His new show Kevin Can Wait is about to reached screens the coming week and his everyman schtick has divided opinion. Two Guardian writers argue the case

The case for: He dedicates a masterclass in screen acting

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Before I begin, let me say this. The trailer for Kevin Can Wait, Jamess new sitcom for CBS, seems nasty. The script is lazy, and the chemistry between him and Erinn Hayes is nonexistent. Equally, if you detest him on the big screen, I can sympathize. Whether hes playing the irritating Paul Blart in Mall Cop or Adam Sandlers aw shucks sidekick, I get it. Hes not your cup of tea. But hear me out: Kevin James is hilarious, you only need to excavate a little deeper.

Jamess career began in improv and standup, when after making appearances in Star Search and Jay Leno; his big break came in 1996 at the Just for Laughs Montreal slapstick festival . It was then when Ray Romano devoted him a recurring role on Everybody Loves Raymond, which led him to create his greatest character, Doug Heffernan. The King Of Queens, to this day, remains my favorite network sitcom of all time and I watch it every single day. When the pilot was aired in 1998, Variety was less than kind : Fat guys with big mouths are back in primetime, said TV critic Ray Richmond. He called it The Honeymooners minus the charm of Jackie Gleason, but once the season grew in confidence so did the writing. The reveal had a ridiculously talented casting that included Jerry Stiller, Patton Oswalt and Victor Williams, but its success( it lasted for nine seasons) lived and died on the chemistry between James and Leah Remini. Theres a great moment in season one where Doug and Carrie are arguing in the middle of a cello performance, and no lines are spoken and the scene is performed in complete stillnes. Its a masterclass in screen acting.

James is a fantastic physical performer, unbelievably athletic for a human of his sizing, and this is something we see throughout the reveal. Another great scene is when Doug presents Carrie how to pole dance and James effortlessly hangs in the air from the pole as if he was a Cirque du Soleil performer. Its one of the funniest scenes in the entire reveal. James, to me, remains a great comedian, blessed with great timing and screen presence. His achilles heel, however just like Chris Rock has always been catastrophic movie decisions. In King Of Queens, he had the freedom to be charmingly mischievous minus the arrogance, but once he appears on a movie screen, all that goes away as he plays 2D flatpack roles. I dont think we should blamed James for that. I only wish he would fire his administrator. LME

The case against: The cinematic works of Kevin James are strictly for the big boy run fall down set

Onward, to mediocrity! Paul Blart: Mall Cop. Photograph: Startraks Photo/ Rex Shutterstock

All right, Luis. I also watched the trailer for Kevin Can Wait in preparation for this rhetorical workout. It didnt only build my hair stand on end. It caused my hair to fall out from the nuclearly unfunny detonation of crap writing. I do not argue that Kevin James isnt a talented performer. Few people ascend to his level of renown without acting chops. What I take issue with is his selection in projects.

Whatever you might say about his uncanny ability to contort his face in amusing styles or his comedic timing in the context of a multi-camera sitcom is blunted by his insistence in starring in such woefully misguided movies as Grown-Ups, Grown-Ups 2, Here Goes the Boom, Zookeeper, Pixels, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry( a movie that aims to be progressive, but achieves the nifty trick of offending people anyway ), Paul Blart: Mall Cop, and Paul Blart Mall Cop: 2. Achieving fame seems like it must be a lovely thing. What one does with that renown is something of a test. James has done crap film after crap film, even going as far as constructing sequels to two of his worst movies. That there isnt a Zookeeper 2 is one of Gods greatest miracles, right up there with the parting of the Red Sea.

I realize these movies are not for me. To expect subtlety, cleverness, culture implication or jokes would be asking too much. The cinematic works of Kevin James are strictly for the big boy run fall down situated who cackle anytime James tries to crammed his hefty frame into a tiny golf cart. Whereas the late Chris Farley had a knack for wringing pathos and affection out of his weight in SNL sketches like the Chippendales tryout with Patrick Swayze or the movie Tommy Boy, Kevin James use it as a dumb crutch.

I cannot be blamed for pointing out his weight here either, as he does so himself multiple times in the risible Kevin Can Wait commercial. He feed four hamburgers! What a cad. When James eats four fake hamburgers off-screen in a sitcom, its hilarious. When I do it at 2am, its sad. Even his good friend, the notoriously slothful Adam Sandler, has stretched their capabilities on numerous occasions. Sandler was fantastic in Funny People and Punch Drunk Love. Even though they were failed experiments, Spanglish, The Cobbler, and Men, Women and Children were at least experiments.

What is abundantly clear from all the promotional materials for Kevin Can Wait is that it is yet another iteration of the tired formula of wacky daddy who learns valuable lessons from his patient household each and every week. Instead of a grand social trend or some bellwether of renewed interest in the traditional sitcom protagonist, its only another instance of Kevin James showcasing his lack of either confidence or interest in escaping the comfortable box he has built for himself. Im not saying that Kevin James is uninterested in stretching. Im saying that he doesnt care. DS

Kevin Can Wait starts on 19 Sep on CBS

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