Part promotional item and part vanity piece, The Wrestler was produced by real-life sports champion Verne Gagne, who also plays the leading role. Offscreen, Gagne ran the American Wrestling Association, which thrived in the Midwest from 1960 to 1991. Onscreen, he plays Mike Bullard, the aging star athlete of a Midwestern league. Mike clashes with a promoter over the prospect of squaring off against a formidable younger opponent, because Mike is reluctant to risk losing his title before retirement, even though he’s already become as famous for his altruism as for his competitive ability. Yes, The Wrestler is a self-financed hagiography disguised as fictional entertainment—although using the word “entertainment” is a stretch seeing as how The Wrestler is dull, flat, and repetitive, suffering from cheap-looking photography, lifeless musical scoring, and terrible supporting performances. How shoddy does The Wrestler look? Whenever the film cuts to a shot taken with a wide-angle lens during a wrestling scene, the corners of the frame are obscured by the matte box that shielded the lens from extraneous light during filming, meaning that either nobody looked at dailies or that the wrestling scenes were all shot in one marathon session. Either way, it’s a rookie mistake. Despite looking bored in some scenes—no surprise, given how little energy he gets from his scene partners—top-billed actor Ed Asner is okay as the conflicted promoter who wants to do right by his biggest earner and yet also wants to make a splash by invigorating the league. Gagne is stiff as the screen version of himself, often laughing and smiling but failing to convey much emotion, and Billy Robinson is wooden as his would-be challenger. Worse, The Wrestler frequently devolves into tedium, thanks to the unconvincing subplot about Asner’s character romancing his pretty young secretary, dull scenes involving organized-crime goons, and an endless bar brawl.
The Wrestler: LAME