Vince McMahon’s WWE has tried to break into film production with mid-sized action movies (“The Marine”) and horror flicks (“See No Evil”) without much luck, so they’ve moved on to “family” entertainment with this laughable coming-of-age tale about a broken family brought back together by (you guessed it) wrestling. “Legendary” is so trite a collection of cliches that it wouldn’t even pass muster as a Hallmark special.
It also mixes good actors with amateurs, though whether that helps the latter or merely embarrasses the former is debatable. After a maudlin introductory voice-over from Danny Glover—who plays a sort of guardian-angel figure—that sets the stage in Oklahoma, we’re introduced to geeky, bespectacled high schooler Calvin Chetley (Devon Graye), who lives with his single mom Sharon (Patricia Clarkson) and is regularly bullied by the campus jocks. His only friend seems to be weird but nice Lori (Courtney J. Clark), though Glover appears every once in a while to offer sage words of encouragement.
Calvin’s response is to join the school’s wrestling team—against his mother’s wishes. But knowing he needs help, he seeks out his older brother Mike (grappler John Cena), who was once a state champ. Mike left home after an auto accident that killed his father when they were on their way to scout an opponent, and Mike was guilt-ridden. He and Sarah became estranged, and he’s now an oilfield worker—when jobs are available. He also drinks and fights too much. Calvin tracks him down, of course, and after some initial jostling, they start helping one another—Mike trains Calvin, and Calvin not only intervenes to keep Mike out of jams with the law but finds him a job. Inevitably, it all leads to Sarah’s reconciliation with Mike, too. And to Calvin’s emergence as a real contender in the district wrestling meet.
“Legendary” means well, and for adolescent boys who thrive on Smackdown and Raw it will afford a good message about the importance of family. But John Posey’s script is riddled with as many predictable moves as any pro wrestling match. Even the close, which shies away from a simple “Rocky” finish, opts for an alternative that’s equally pat. And when it adds a gratuitous sequence in which Lori gets a makeover from Sharon, you can’t help but cringe at such a rip-off from “The Breakfast Club.” You almost feel that Ally Sheedy should be playing Clarkson’s part.
As to the acting, Clarkson brings much more to the role than it deserves, though Glover relishes playing the deus ex machina way too much. Graye is okay, though his spindly frame really doesn’t convince in spandex wrestling gear, and Clark overdoes the oddness quotient as his girlfriend. As for Cena, he tries hard, but the sort of acting that works in the ring isn’t enough to carry a real movie role, and he comes off as thick and lumpish as a side of beef. The utterly pedestrian direction by TV vet Mel Damski is no help.
On the whole the production has an amateurish look, appearing to be what it is—a low budget location shoot. But the wrestling action looks authentic enough.
A pity the same can’t be said of the mawkish, manipulative movie.