Columns

'Knucklehead': The Tenacious Appeal of Pro Wrestling

Paul Wight

It occurred to me that Clint Eastwood used to make these kinds of movies – often with an orangutan – back when he made good movies.


Knucklehead

Director: Michael W. Watkins
Cast: The Big Show, Mark Feuerstein, Melora Hardin, Lurie Poston
Distributor: Vivendi
Release Date: 2010-11-09

“Knucklehead,” the PG-13 comedy starring WWE star Paul “Big Show” Wight, is built from the ground up to appeal to the sensibilities of 14-year-old pro wrestling fans.

Nothing wrong with that. I was a 14-year-old pro wrestling fan once, but this was back when Rowdy Roddy Piper and the Iron Sheik still roamed the ring. I once had a series of very vivid dreams that Junkyard Dog and King Kong Bundy were living in my bedroom closet. At night, they would come out to play Dungeons & Dragons and discuss Reagan's economic policies. I wish I could say I was making this up.

Like most other kids, I lost interest in pro wrestling when I discovered girls and marijuana, but I've kept track of things in a kind of peripheral way over the years. I'm aware, for instance, that Hulk Hogan turned into a bad guy at one point.

And that the '80s entity WWF (World Wrestling Federation) had to change its name when the other WWF, the World Wildlife Fund, objected to the acronymic encroachment. This might seem silly, until you consider the case of George “The Animal” Steele, who really could have qualified for a paycheck from either organization.

In recent years, I've become aware of wrestling again due to the film career of former WWF star Dwane “The Rock” Johnson. My kids have an inexplicable love for this guy, whose many family films – each terrible in its own earnest, unique way – are in heavy rotation on our DVD player. By my calculations, Johnson owes me three years of my life back. I want them now.

Familiar Stories and Wandering Thoughts

So my hopes weren't high when I was rope-a-doped into seeing Knucklehead. Clearly, Wight is aiming for a Rock-like career shift into family entertainment.

The set-up goes like this: Wight plays Walter Kronk, the 30-something resident of a church-run orphanage otherwise populated by feisty, adorable Oliver Twist types.

Walter never got adopted, you see, because he was six feet tall at ten-years-old. Now seven feet tall and 450 pounds, Walter remains with head nun Sister Francesca (Wendy Malick) until the day when he accidentally burns down part of the orphanage.

And so, in the manner of the Blues Brothers and 1,000 lesser screenplays, it seems the orphanage needs money fast, and it's up to Walter to hit the road and save the day.

He teams with down-and-out fight manager Eddie Sullivan (veteran TV actor Eddie Feuerstein), who also needs quick cash. Together with a chaperone from the orphanage (Melora Hardin, The Office), Eddie and Walter cross the country to compete in a series of bare-knuckle bouts, which are now apparently referred to as mixed martial arts competitions.

It occurred to me that Clint Eastwood used to make these kinds of movies – often with an orangutan – back when he made good movies. Perhaps this is unfair. But based on his recent movies, Eastwood has to be the most overrated director working today. Invictus and especially Gran Torino are just aggressively bad movies.

Clearly, Knucklehead gives your mind lots of time to wander. This is basically an odd-couple tag team comedy, peppered with an underdog sports story, and stitched together with chapter titles from the freshman Intro to Screenwriting textbook. Just like every pro wrestling script ever penned. (The movie is a production of WWE Films, of course.)

Melora Hardin, Wendie Malick and Paul Wight in Knucklehead

Broad Strokes and Pleasant Surprises

So does the movie work? Within the scope of its cash-in-and-cash-out ambitions – sure, it does. Wight, with his sad eyes and weirdly Gallic profile, comes across as a supersized Gerard Depardieu, without the actual acting ability.

He does surprisingly well. Director Michael W. Watkins is smart enough to keep the genuine emotions to a bare minimum, and the comic moments painted in broad strokes. Dennis Farina fills out the villain role with the same artful subtlety of – oh, say – Randy “The Macho Man” Savage, circa 1985.

There are a few genuinely funny scenes. I liked the idea of an underground Orthodox Jewish fight club. And Wendy Malick, who can do no wrong in my book, has some good lines as the no-nonsense nun. (“We are royally screwed! Like, Buckingham Palace, tea-and-crumpets, bad-skin-and-crooked teeth screwed!”) She also gets to do a old-school vaudevillian spit take, one of the few fringe benefits of being in a movie like this.

If you've got a teenage kid into pro wrestling, Knucklehead is an entirely sensible option. The fighting is cartoony and bloodless; the tone and humor about what you'd expect.

It's essentially just the 20-minute hero-vs-heel template from a mid-'80s Wrestlemania bout, with an additional 70 minutes of sitcom situations. Dumb and dependably predictable, this stuff never really changes or ages. And it's still likely to be better than whatever movie Clint Eastwood is directing, this year.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image