Inspired by sports movies like Rudy and The Karate Kid, and presenting smatterings of others like Lucas and Hoosiers, the John Cena vehicle, Legendary is the WWE’s ninth foray into the movie making business. The movie centers on Cal Chetley (Devon Graye), a scrawny fifteen-year-old geek who earns pocket money by farming catfish. He’s sweet-natured, and enjoys a tight bond with his mother (Patricia Clarkson).
Cal has the obligatory brushes with bullies, three jackasses on the school’s wrestling team. When Cal isn’t being picked on or considering romantic advances from his neighbor, Luli (Madeleine Martin), he is yearning after the father he barely knew and the older brother who left the family after his father’s death. Eager to connect with his estranged brother, Cal decides to join the wrestling team and tracks his brother down.
Cal’s brother, Mike (John Cena), has spent the last ten years bouncing from dead-end job to dead-end job, drinking heavily, and bedding a bevy of women in the process. He is decidedly disinterested in reuniting with his little brother; however, a barroom brawl lands him in serious trouble and Cal helps get him off. Mike then begins coaching Cal.
The screenplay was written by John Posey, who also plays Coach Tennent. The script offers up dialogue that is filled with wisecracks, but is ham-fisted in some spots and too on-the-nose in others. I found the score by James Alan Johnston to be rather manipulative, too.
Legendary presents a plethora of stereotyped sports film characters. The hero is an underdog who teams up with a rough anti-hero to train toward the climactic contest. The bully is a jerk with an obvious Madonna-whore complex. The coach is tough-talking but soft-hearted. Luli and Cal’s mother do little more than play variations of the supportive woman behind the man. (I took exception to the “girl talk” scene in which Cal’s mother gives Luli advice right out of The Rules.) And Danny Glover’s Red is nothing more than what Spike Lee refers to as the “Super-duper magical negro”; the semi-clever plot twist at the end of the film doesn’t redeem this character’s shocking lack of a back story and direction.
Even the sequences were clichéd. The hero defends his lady’s honor at the school dance. The barroom fights that John Cena finds himself in feature muscled-up thugs with chips on their shoulders. Eighties-style heavy metal provides background noise for the too-numerous training and wrestling match montages. Even the fact that Cena lives in a squalid trailer park is a cliché.
All told, Legendary is guaranteed to do well with the eighteen-to-twenty-five demographic at which this movie was most definitely aimed. But I can’t see this film appealing to anyone else.