An accident. A wife lost without her husband. A big brother who blames himself. And a younger sibling who—for the love of God, no!—now wants to get involved with the sport that once so consumed the other men of the family. He wants to be the best, just like they were.
Can you hear the swelling music?
You’ll hear a lot of it in Legendary, a WWE Films production starring John Cena and, unfathomably, Patricia Clarkson. The score, in fact, is so intrusive it cries “Hallmark!” even during scenes that might otherwise be moving. Instead, the film feels like nothing but treacle as it tells the story of Cal (Devon Graye), a nerdy Oklahoma high schooler who doesn’t have much going on except fishing at the ol’ watering hole, dining with Mom (Clarkson), and missing the floodlight-size like-like signals from his weird best friend, Luli (Madeleine Martin). One evening Cal tells his mother that he’s going to take up wrestling and that, furthermore, he wouldn’t mind reconnecting with his estranged older brother, Mike (Cena), a one-time wrestling champ whom he’s seen only a couple of times in the past 10 years.
Mom freaks. “Do you think Mike will help you?” she squawks. “Help you know your father?!”
Why, yes—that’s exactly it, the gist of the film summed up in one tidy line. Legendary is the type of movie that tells its story through unnatural dialogue and characters looking through memory boxes filled with photos, newspaper clippings, and notes. (The script is courtesy of fledgling screenwriter John Posey, who’s also cast as the school’s wrestling coach.) There are also plenty of montages: Cal watching his first wrestling practice with his mouth hanging open. (Which is at least accompanied by some whiny douche-rock and not James Raymond’s hokey strings.) Cal practicing with Mike. (When he still sucks.) Cal getting better. (Spoiler alert!)
Cal and Mike’s reunion doesn’t come easily. Not even their mother has had contact with Mike since their father was killed in a car accident. And in order to get to his big bro’s trailer, Cal has to do some digging and take, like, three buses. Mike, naturally, has enough problems of his own: He’s recently been laid off. He tends to let his temper and brawn take over when some dirtbag gets in his face. And, wouldn’t you know it, there’s a good reason why he hasn’t been in touch with the family and wants nothing to do with wrestling.
Cal’s scrappiness wears Mike down, of course, but it’s not before Cena gets in some significant Looking Serious time. To be fair, the former wrestler isn’t terrible, but he’s not given very much to do as his character swings from stoicism to fall-to-his-knees supportive. (He really does fall to his knees. It’s the movie’s biggest laugh.) Graye’s an effective if annoying nebbish—you can understand why Cal’s tormented by classmates, even if the guy’s personality-free geekiness makes it less than believable when people do start rooting for him. Clarkson, meanwhile, slips in and out of a gentle Okie accent and cries on cue, perhaps recalling what an awful film she’s in. Legendary may be about championship, but it falls way short of its titular status.