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.
Bran Nue Dae Directed by Rachel Perkins
When it comes to movie musicals, you’ve got to grade on a curve; there’s an inherent cheesiness to characters bursting into song. Even with that in mind, however, Australian director Rachel Perkins’ Bran Nue Dae makes Mamma Mia! look like an Oscar winner. The film does hold a certain pedigree, having been adapted from the first Aboriginal stage musical. But the bright colors and jazz hands that may play well in a live setting fall flat and goofy when the boundary breaker’s weaknesses are projected on-screen.
It all starts promisingly enough. Willie (Rocky McKenzie) is our hero, an indigenous boarding-school student in 1969 Western Australia who’s studying to become a priest because his mother (Ningali Lawford-Wolf) tells him to. Really, though, his heart is with Rosie (Jessica Mauboy), an Aboriginal Miley Cyrus whose vocal gymnastics in the church choir make Willie swoon. But when a cute cowboy lures her into singing in a bar—a “house of sin,” according to Willie’s mom—and it’s time to ship off to school, Willie tries to forget about Rosie, resigning himself to the pre-priestly life.
A mischievous classmate, however, talks Willie and the boys into raiding the sweets-filled refrigerator of Father Benedictus (Geoffrey Rush!), and when their headmaster discovers the theft the next day, Willie comes forth to confess. Not out of guilt, mind you, but because he sees it as an opportunity to escape and head back to Broome, spending time with singing bums and a couple of VW-bus-driving hippies along the way. But not before the good father’s flock can whip out back flips and a kick line as they belt a tacky show tune with the chorus, “There’s nothing that I’d rather be/Than be an Aborigine/And watch you take my precious land away!”
It’s jubilant, to be sure, as is a piece of rockabilly that gets whirlwind treatment when Rosie is first invited to the bar-room stage. But Glee this ain’t: Not only is the rest of the soundtrack nowhere near as catchy, there’s not enough story or even characterization to make up for it, leaving an insurmountable inability for this film to entertain. Instead, we get cutesy/kooky touches, such as exaggerated sound effects (one of the student’s knees knock like a woodpecker) and cartoonish characters (the overheated, more-to-love, and completely unnecessary seductress running a deli, say, or the dippy female half of the hippie couple, who gets excited about everything and everyone to the point of “testifying” for Willie’s mother). Rush, whose priest is German, affects an outlandish accent while the padre’s glasses get knocked sideways and steam practically shoots out of his ears.
You’ll either be charmed by the caricature or think it more suitable for Looney Tunes. Bran Nue Dae (merely the phonetic spelling of “Brand New Day”) may have the benefit of a gorgeous, hypersaturated landscape and impressive performers. But, improbably, Daffy & Co. are more well-rounded, with plots that actually engage instead of feeling like skits stitched together.