Film >On his back
Earlier this decade, WWE pro wrestling got wise to the fact that their homegrown lugs were using the exposure they got from WWE as a platform to Hollywood action-star success. So CEO Vince McMahon formed WWE Films as a way to build and make money off that platform – a smart move that paid off with early Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson hits Walking Tall and The Rundown.
Lately, wrestling star John Cena has been the next big hope of this arrangement, and although Cena has the action-star presence and wobbly yet not unworkable screen chops – recently seen in a funny episode of Psych directed by TV veteran Mel Damski, also Legendary’s unfortunate director – McMahon and Co.’s choices of projects have gone from straight-to-DVD bad (The Marine) to Renny Harlin bad (12 Rounds) to, with Legendary, the kind of fake movie that you sometimes see in the background of real movies as a joke.
Legendary, for what it’s worth, stars Cena as a former All-American high school wrestler whose father died tragically, leading him to become estranged from his mother (Patricia Clarkson, cringing) and wannabe wrestler brother (Devon Graye). Prone to bar fights and drinking, Cena hides from the world (and his emotions – awwww!) until his younger brother, Cal, finds him and begs Cena to teach him karate – er, wrestling. Sorry, I was thinking of about 20 different movies.
In the meantime, Cal kinda-sorta falls for a local mentally handicapped girl (this is the most pain-inducing subplot, narrowly edging out a left-field Magical Negro turn by Danny Glover) and learns to stand up to a bully on his own wrestling team. Cena, meanwhile, somehow finds it within himself to return to his former school and watch Cal wrestle in a big tournament. The shots of him brooding and skulking in a dark corner of the gymnasium, honestly believing that the moment everyone saw him they would judge him and hold him up against his former self – a self that graduated more than a decade earlier and is nothing more than a name on a plaque in the school’s trophy stand – are gob-smacking. Just how delusional is this man?
In fact, I’m not entirely sure how Cal learns anything or manages to survive six minutes on the mat; we never see him jogging, spitting, lifting weights or even practicing much in his mountainous free time. Cal’s wrestling coach (played by the film’s screenwriter, John Posey, a University of Florida graduate) allows him to quit, rejoin and flit in and out willy-nilly, and his mom vehemently opposes him wrestling at all.
When it comes time for the climactic showdown, Cal makes it to the final round of some random tournament that’s not districts or regionals or states or any competition that would matter to Cal’s chances in the postseason – he lost tons of matches early in the season before Cena stepped in. Suddenly, that match is all that matters in the film’s world, and all any of the adults in Cal’s life are good for at his critical moment is to yell things like “Sinch! Sinch!” and practically collapse in the gym when it looks like all is lost. But we can’t count on the kid learning perspective from a bunch of grownups that clearly believe high school wrestling is either the devil’s playground or Everything That Matters Ever.
High school wrestling is fertile ground for cinema; there’s nothing quite like its intense personal spirit or the dangerous mental battlefield that comes with its focus on weight at the varsity level – some of which was explored in 1985’s Vision Quest. (I spent all four years of high school on the wrestling mats.) But the subject matter isn’t even the major problem with Legendary; it’s so cheaply, poorly made that I worried about all involved. What does McMahon have on you people?