Film Review: Wrestling flick a 'Legendary' stinker

Cal Chetley (Devon Graye, right) is a struggling high school wrestler in 'Legendary.'

Van Redin/WWE Studios

Cal Chetley (Devon Graye, right) is a struggling high school wrestler in "Legendary."

Many words have become almost meaningless through misuse and overuse. "Awesome." "Masterpiece." "Liberal." "Patriot."

But even in our current culture of devalued vocabulary, it takes a lot of chutzpah to make a movie about a high school kid who wins a few wrestling matches and title it "Legendary."

Cal Chetley (Devon Graye, right) is a struggling high school wrestler in 'Legendary.'

Van Redin/WWE Studios

Cal Chetley (Devon Graye, right) is a struggling high school wrestler in "Legendary."

In the small town of Sallisaw, Okla., the Chetley name is synonymous with victory. This inspirational tale of a young man's dream to reunite his ...

Rating: PG-13 for suggestive material, brief partial nudity and some fighting scenes

Length: 107 minutes

Released: September 10, 2010 Limited

Cast: Patricia Clarkson, Danny Glover, John Cena, Madeleine Martin, Tyler Posey

Director: Mel Damski

Writer: John Posey

More info and showtimes »

A production of WWE Studios, the filmmaking subsidiary of Vince McMahon's pro wrestling empire, "Legendary" seems inspired by the post-"Blind Side" realization that a low-budget heart-warmer about family can be as profitable as a low-budget head-ripper-offer about a psycho killer. (A typical entry in the blood-drenched WWE Studios back catalog is "See No Evil," a 2006 film rated R for "strong gruesome violence and gore throughout.")

"Legendary" was shot in Louisiana, but the story is set in Oklahoma (Memphians can relate), where, according to narrator Danny Glover, "not all legends are about victory. ... Some are born out of struggle." (Wait a minute, aren't victories preceded by struggle?)

In this ersatz small-town Oklahoma, we meet likable if uninspiring Cal Chetley (Devon Graye), a bespectacled, book-smart "beanpole" with a dead father, an estranged brother (pro wrestler John Cena, star of the WWE action pics "The Marine" and "The Marine 2"), a sympathetic mother (Patricia Clarkson, in a rare I'm-doing-it-for-the-money role), and a semi-girlfriend named Luli (Madeleine Martin), who, we're told, grew "melons" over the summer. Luli dresses like a shanty-tramp Bjork and talks like Zelda Rubinstein, the diminutive ghost-whisperer from "Poltergeist," so at least she's interesting, unlike her boyfriend.

Cal and Luli attend Riverdale High, but John Posey's script is so lacking in wit that we're not sure if the name is an homage or a coincidence; in any case, there are no signs of Archie or Jughead.

Cal decides he wants to follow in his brother's footsteps and become a wrestler, even though he has to compete in the 135-pound division, which seems to be about the weight of John Cena's head. Mom is worried, but Cal demonstrates that some legends are born out of struggle. Cena, meanwhile, demonstrates that while he might be able to snap Clarkson like a twig, when it comes to acting, he's a pencil-neck geek and she's Plowboy Frazier. In their scenes together, he's as inert as a cinder block with ears.

Directed by veteran TV helmer Mel Damski, "Legendary" would lull even a Hallmark Channel devotee to sleep. For this viewer, the movie was worth watching only for the surprise appearance of Memphis actor and man-mountain Patrick Cox, the bald menace of such local productions as "Live Animals" and the upcoming "Savage County." Here, Cox gets his head slammed into a bar by an angry Cena; as you sit through the rest of "Legendary," you almost envy him.

-- John Beifuss: 529-2394

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