Film Review: LegendaryStix Dig Hick Pix? A firmly Middle American high-school drama, set in small-town Oklahoma, about classical wrestling, starring a sports-entertainment wrestler and produced by World Wrestling Entertainment.
There must have come a moment for the estimable, classically trained, Emmy Award-winning and Oscar-nominated stage and screen actress Patricia Clarkson when she stood opposite her co-star, pro wrestler John Cena, and asked herself, "What am I doing here?" The answer, presumably, is that she has bills to pay. Or maybe she wanted to reach an audience that doesn't watch "Frasier" or "Six Feet Under" and wouldn't know High Art if they ran into it on the street, or at a NASCAR race.
Clarkson, in fact, doesn't actually seem to be giving it her all playing Sharon, the mother of a geeky teen and of an older, estranged son who was once a high-school wrestling phenom, except for a moving scene in which she discusses their father's death. Seeing her in the crowd of a wrestling match yelling, "Squeeze it! Squeeze it!" is even a little embarrassing.
However, Devon Graye, the star of this teen-oriented film produced by the pro-wrestling conglomerate World Wrestling Entertainment, holds the center well, even when called upon to do ridiculous scenes like weighing in naked at a wrestling match to psych out his opponent. Given that this high-school drama is set in a tiny, shall we say non-cosmopolitan Oklahoma town, I'm not sure how that would've played out in real life. Probably not well. Regardless, former "Dexter" semi-regular Graye, as the 135-pound Cal Chetley, never wavers—whether walking away literally butt-naked or trying to connect emotionally with Mike, the taciturn, 28-year-old brother he's maybe seen twice in 10 years, and who, as played by Cena, has all the emotional range of a brick.
The film—which also includes voiceover narrator and pop-in "Magical Negro" Danny Glover as someone from the family's past—does nod admirably to non-jock lifestyles, both in Cal's well-roundedness and guts and in the creatively eccentric girl-next-door, Luli (Madeleine Martin of "Californication")—who, with her snub nose and her baby-fat chunkiness, isn't some interchangeable teen-blonde "Gossip Girl" clone. In a nice touch, the doe-eyed Martin, who uses the same oddly stylized vocal pattern as on her Showtime series, comes across as very real and not as a "Manic Pixie Dream Girl."
Yet the blunt and bludgeoning script by longtime actor John Posey in his first produced feature should get thrown out of the ring. Everything is surface, baldly stated. Sharon doesn't want Cal to wrestle because Mike and her late husband Mac both did and "it ate them up." When Cal wants to visit Mike a few towns over to get his wrestling expertise, she tells him, "What do you think—he's gonna help you? Help you know your father?" And of course, the sage and smiling Harry Newman (Glover), down by the catfish pond, is there to help, asking Cal, "Wanna share some of those heavy thoughts you're carrying?"
Nor does the plot hang together. Sharon visits the wrestling coach (Posey), asking him not to let Cal wrestle. But there's a not a high school in the country that lets kids play contact sports without a signed liability waiver from the parents. One would-be heartwarming scene involves Cal perjuring himself in court to get his brother out of a jail sentence—a sentence he's inexplicably about to receive despite an entire bar full of witnesses when he fought in self-defense after being attacked from behind. And most outlandishly, Cal walks onto the floor in a climactic regional championship match wearing a splashy hand-painted robe, amid pyrotechnic flash pots, music and lighting effects, and nobody bats an eye!
It's admirable that Legendary tries to be inspirational, but as Samuel Goldwyn, the namesake of this film's distributor, supposedly said, "If you want to send a message, call Western Union." To which we'd add: If you want to make a wrestling movie, get moviemakers, not wrestlers.