If you've ever slowed down in traffic to gawk at a car crash, you have an idea of the appeal of professional wrestling. It's not exactly theater and not exactly sport, but it sure does grab your attention. If you're a new acquaintance to testosterone, wrestling's he-man posturing adds a special glow to the performance. And if you dab a little female sex appeal into the mix, it's, well, explosive.
Those elements drive "Ready to Rumble," a film that takes its title from one of several catch phrases well known to wrestling fans. Just like the "sport" it exploits, the movie borrows from a wide set of source materials. Wagnerian classical music glorifies the cheapest theatrics, the low humor is even dumber than "Dumb & Dumber" and the clichéd plot tells of a comeback that's performed against impossible odds (think the "Rocky" sequels).
Our protagonists are Gordie Biggs (David Arquette) and Sean Dawkins (Scott Caan), two half-wit septic-tank cleaners who we see pledge their fealty to a favorite wrestler while they lunch at the leaky rear end of their tanker. After seeing their hero "cheated" of his title in a local match, they travel to Georgia to help him re-enter the ring and reclaim his glory.
The champ, one Jimmy King (Oliver Platt), turns out to be a drunken deadbeat dad, but that doesn't deter his truest fans. With the help of a feisty old-timer named Sal (Martin Landau), they whip him back into shape and into a triple-decker cage match that's being broadcast from Las Vegas on pay-per-view -- along with TNT's "Monday Nitro," it's the Holy Grail of wrestling. (Note to brand-watchers: This flick bears the all-too-obvious sanction of World Championship Wrestling.)
There are far more crotch kicks than funny lines of dialogue in "Ready to Rumble." (Want a pedigree? Writer Stephen Brill wrote ALL THREE Mighty Ducks movies.) Worse, the actors don't treat the material with enough respect (or at least parodic intent) to elevate it past simple embarrassment. That may be enough for a routine Monday-night smackdown, but even rassling enthusiasts will soon see this exploitation for what it is: a cheap rip-off.
That may sound oxymoronic, but even astute observers of popular culture can agree that wrestling has earned a place in our national consciousness, if only among kids aged 12-to-14 or those who miss those particular wonder years.
Indeed, one can experience greater affinity with pro wrestling via the current documentary, Beyond the Mat, than with this pap. And anyone with a memory that stretches back to those televised, Saturday-afternoon "Championship Wrestling From Florida" matches will certainly mourn what past glories have become.
Director Brian Robbins made a strong debut with "Varsity Blues" by demonstrating a thoughtful understanding of his young, male target audience. Here, the understanding's present, but not the thoughtfulness. (He's dissing you, kids.) And the venerable group of character actors who are cast in small roles -- Rose McGowan, Joe Pantoliano and Landau -- can't seem to decide whether they're playing for fun or a quick payday. Gordon Solie, you must be hammer-locked in your grave.
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