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Movie review: 'Legendary'

September 10, 2010
  • John Cena plays mentor to a young boy who wants to be a wrestler in "Legendary."
John Cena plays mentor to a young boy who wants to be a wrestler in "Legendary." (Samuel Goldwyn Films )

"Legendary" is a bold-faced name for a lowercase effort, a school wrestling drama so mired in family-film clichés it can never shake loose the suspicion that — not unlike certain high-gloss mat bouts — the emotional fix is in from the get-go.

From a few scenes introducing an easily bullied, bespectacled high schooler named Cal ( Devon Graye), his protective, widowed mother Sharon ( Patricia Clarkson), Cal's estranged, troubled ex-wrestler brother Mike (wrestling star John Cena), and a mysterious, smiling fisherman ( Danny Glover) who offers Cal plenty of sage-like advice, it's impossible not to chart where this "Karate Kid"-infused, broken-home soap is going.

Screenwriter John Posey and director Mel Damski have the kind of unforgiving chokehold on their material that recalls stiffly presented TV afterschool specials rather than recognizable human drama, even with Clarkson doing her indie-rhythm best to find new ways to breathe life into some woefully earnest schmaltz. Elsewhere, Graye struggles to hold the screen, while Cena struggles to draw focus away from his biceps.

If it's mildly surprising that the movie arm of smackdown-crazed World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. is behind "Legendary," it's more perplexing that any possible excitement from dramatizing the sport gets pinned down by all the mawkishness.

Robert Abele

"Legendary." MPAA rating: PG-13 for suggestive material, brief partial nudity and some fighting scenes. Running time: 1 hour, 47 minutes. In limited release.

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