Will Ferrell as a saggy-assed streaker might be a thing of beauty, but Will Ferrell as a weepy girly man is not a pretty sight. And for much of Kicking & Screaming, that’s exactly what he is: an ineffectual suburban dad who just wants his kid to play soccer and his own pops, Buck (Robert Duvall), to show him a little love. But at least this PG-rated feel-gooder is no Melinda and Melinda, in which Ferrell’s Woody Allen–lite schtick was downright emasculating and, worse, unfunny. It’s still uncomfortable to watch the Cowbell King whine—and yes, director Jesse Dylan actually has him shed tears—but here Ferrell manages to eke out a few laughs as his doormat character, Phil, undergoes a personality change after agreeing to coach his son’s soccer team. The nice-guy-to-raging-winaholic metamorphosis isn’t the whole story, of course—cutthroat competition not being very family-friendly and all. But Leo Benvenuti and Steve Rudnick’s script does keep the sugar level down to USDA-approved levels, with a generous number of jokes at the expense of Buck’s antagonistic neighbor and Phil’s assistant coach, Mike Ditka (“Have you ever looked into his eyes? Or at his hair?”), and a few gags that are just self-deprecating enough to avoid being flat-out racist (the way, for example, Ditka calls an Asian player “Bing Bong” because he can’t remember the child’s multisyllabic name). Ditka, who has a surprising knack for comedy, and Duvall, who, post–Assassination Tango, is finally supposed to be ridiculous, also add a fair number of plain ol’ meatheaded yuks to Kicking & Screaming, even if Buck’s constant derision of Phil is a bit too mean-spirited to be either amusing or believed. But it’s during Phil’s brief transformation into caffeine-fueled angry dad that the movie becomes its most entertaining and Ferrell, at long last, seems himself, putting his whole big-boned body into being shamelessly small-minded and childish. No other grown-up baits an unsuspecting little angel better than this: “I can eat a box of cookies for dinner. Can you do that? No, because you’re a fart-faced kid.”

—Tricia Olszewski