WWE Studios, a subsidiary of World Wrestling Entertainment, is surely hoping that most, if not all, of its millions of viewers will head to the theater to check out its latest feature film.
But Legendary, a by-the-numbers sports drama with a death grip on clichés and acting every bit as flat as the mat, seems unlikely to draw much of a crowd. The story – about two estranged brothers who reconnect through the joys of grappling – is just another version of every redemptive sports movie ever made, albeit using a sport we haven’t seen much in feature films, Vision Quest and adaptations of John Irving novels aside.
“Not all legends are about victory,” Danny Glover tells us as the opening credits roll. One might well argue with that premise – if you’re not victorious, you don’t tend to get talked about, unless you pull a Bill Buckner – but let’s accept it for the time being. Glover’s narration starts and ends the film, and as his wise and mysterious character floats in and out of the movie, you get the sinking sense that he’s some sort of guardian angel. Spoiler alert: One of the good things about Legendary is that he’s also flesh and blood. Wrestling fans may enjoy their staged fantasies, but angels would most likely be a bridge too far.
The estranged brothers are teenage, bookish Cal (Devon Graye) and strong, silent Mike (WWE star John Cena). Cal lives with his mom (the always-fine Patricia Clarkson), and they have no contact with the troubled Mike, who drinks and fights more than is strictly sensible or necessary. The family was devastated 10 years earlier by the death of father Mac, a former high-school wrestling star killed in a car accident, and they’ve never recovered.
But Cal suddenly decides to join his high-school wrestling team and seeks out Mike, also a high-school champ, for training advice. The brothers help each other and gradually bond, while Mom knows nothing about their reacquaintance.
What Clarkson is doing in what should be a straight-to-DVD movie remains unclear, but she proves that she can act alongside the least animate of objects. (Cena may be a good wrestler, but at registering emotion he’s a brick wall). Also particularly bad is Madeleine Martin as Cal’s would-be girlfriend, a poorly conceived character who seems way too old to be showing her breasts to neighbor boys for a dollar.
The wrestling sequences are more or less effectively staged, and the film’s message – “Just don’t quit” – is sound. But overall, Legendary isn’t the epic story of redemption for which its makers hoped.
Cast: Patricia Clarkson, John Cena, Devon Graye, Madeleine Martin, Danny Glover.
Director: Mel Damski.
Screenwriter: John Posey.
Producers: David Calloway.
A WWE Studios release. Running time: 107 minutes. Suggestive material, partial nudity, some fighting scenes. In Miami-Dade: Palace, Flagship; in Broward: Coral Square.