A skinny teenager wants to wrestle in this unpretentious film with a predictable storyline (it even gives away the ending in the first minute) but benefits from some sharp dialog and the always watchable Patricia Clarkson.
Cal Chetley (Devon Graye) has a lot of spirit and a great relationship with his widowed mother (Patricia Clarkson) — until she finds out that like his late father and estranged brother he wants to join the wrestling team. She points out that he’s a beanpole while his brother Mike is “built like a car.” But he has been picked on by a bully and would like to be able to defend himself physically as well as he does verbally. And joining the team gives him a reason (and an excuse) to try to repair the connection to Mike (the WWE’s John Cena).
It’s your basic sports plot. There’s the meet where he fails miserably. There’s the secret hold he has to be ready to learn. The wrestling and the relationship between the brothers seems to make progress and then hits some obstacles on the way to the big meet.
It may satisfy wrestling fans but it is unlikely to make the sport compelling to anyone who is not already knowledgeable. It is more likely to make some new fans for Graye, who is instantly likable as he stands up to a bully, gently teases his mother about her date, and even more gently helps his friend Luli (Madeleine Martin in the film’s weakest performance) understand that she is not valuing herself enough. Cena is well cast as a big guy who keeps a lot inside, and Danny Glover plays a helpful guide who somehow always shows up when he is needed, though no one ever sees him but Cal. Clarkson makes the mother real and touching, bringing a wry affection and touching pride to her moments with Cal and a fierce urgency to the family tensions. Her scene with Martin, as two women living in male-dominated households, is a highlight that reminds us where the real victories are.
Parents should know that this film has some crude sexual references and teen insults. A teenage girl uses sex to get attention and there is brief locker-room rear male nudity and some kissing. It also includes a bully and a bar fight.
Family discussion: What does it mean to say “When you show up, things happen?” How is this move like “The Kung Fu Kid” and how is it different?
If you like this, try: “Vision Quest,” about a high school wrestler, and “Beyond the Mat” a documentary about pro wrestling