by KYW’s Bill Wine —
With high school wrestling as both background and foreground, the heart-on-its-sleeve family drama Legendary wrestles its themes and relationships to a draw.
Ten years ago, Mac Chetley, a celebrated state collegiate wrestling champ in Oklahoma, died in a tragic car accident, leaving behind a wife and two sons.
Now the younger son, Cal, a slight, bookish, bullied 15-year-old played by Devon Graye (at right in photo) — urged on by a neighbor with a fan’s passionate interest in wrestling (played by Danny Glover) — decides to go out for his high school’s wrestling team just as his father did years ago and his older brother more recently.
To help himself train — and, perhaps, as way of reuniting the splintered family — he seeks out that underachieving, musclebound older brother, Mike, played by John Cena, his polar opposite (at left in photo), who followed up his career as a wrestling star by disappearing and estranging himself from what remains of the family.
This does not please their mother, Sharon, played by Patricia Clarkson, who resents absentee Mike and would prefer that neither she nor her remaining son have any contact with Mike because he abandoned them. Besides, she fears that Cal’s involvement in wrestling could have a negative impact on him.
The director, Mel Damski, a veteran of television, turns out a satisfactory feature-film debut, keeping things relatively low-key and focusing on small-town rhythms and charm, even if he does allow a few wincingly amateurish moments to remain in the finished product.
The script (previously titled Brother’s Keeper, a far more appropriate title) by Jon Posey, who also appears on screen as the wrestling coach, explores family adhesiveness and unity as well as forgiveness and healing.
It’s certainly about college wrestling, and viewers who participate in or attend competitive wrestling matches will have a stronger interest in the material and be that much more absorbed.
However, the narrative is really more about the reconciliation of family members and the coming-of-age of one of them than it is about the sport itself.
Clarkson contributes her dependably surehanded performance and Graye has an admirably natural quality. As for professional wrestling superstar Cena, who continues to learn the ropes as he segues to acting, he works on his new craft and stretches just a tad, managing to hold his own despite his stone-faced countenance.
And, of course, he steps front and center toward film’s end to execute the obligatory and awkwardly inserted fight scene — a sop to his WWE followers, it would seem, from the production company, WWE Films.
So we’ll pin 2½ stars out of 4 for Legendary, a heartfelt and respectable family drama that doesn’t come anywhere near living up to its title, but that still manages to earn a takedown for its audience.