Tuesday, October 19, 2010

KNUCKLEHEAD -- another WWE-produced, family-aimed movie -- arrives in theaters

Are any of you film fans old enough to recall Red Skelton? The comedian, from the early days of television who also made some very popular movies in his time (the 1940s and 50s), was a goofy, silly, funny guy, who especially appealed to kids (and to adults with perhaps more childlike tastes). Watching KNUCKLEHEAD, the latest in the new pack of films (the recent Legendary was another) from the WWE, I couldn't help but think of "Red" and how, as a child, I'd laughed myself silly at his antics. While I didn't laugh myself into oblivion at Knucklehead (too old and jaded for that, folks), the movie did put a smile on my face more often than I might have expected.

Its star, Paul "The Big Show" Wight (a fellow of whom I had never previously heard, since I never watch wrestling), is cer-tainly no Skelton. He possesses neither the knockabout physical abilities nor the crack timing of the comedian. Yet Wight (shown at right, with one of his co-stars, Melora Hardin) is quite able to communicate sweetness and charm (as well as a certain endearing dunce-like quality) beneath his huge exterior, and these go a long way toward making the movie work better than one might imagine. And what exactly is that movie? How about Oliver Twist meets Sister Act in the prize-fight/wrestling arena? Like some of the old Skelton films (The Fuller Brush Man, for instance), it combines several genres: comedy, thriller, heartwarming family fun, a road trip and -- of course -- wrestling.

Knucklehead's story begins in an about-to-be-closed-down orphan's home, run by stern nun (Wendie Malick, left) and her assistant Ms. Hardin, for whom works our "hero" as the home's handyman. Into this venue appears inveterate gambler and prize-fight promoter (Mark Feuerstein), running from his debt to nasty mob boss (Dennis Farina), and who needs a fighter to fill in for his recently knocked-out contestant.  Feuerstein bumps into Wight, and the rest, as they say, is... cliché. Some clichés, however, are more fun than others, and the movie thankfully provides these. Its pro cast seems to understand that it is not involved in making a new Citizen Kane, and so the actors throw themselves into the silliness with appropriate relish.

Ms Hardin -- an actress I've loved since seeing her in one of the great (and unreleased threatrically) romantic comedies of the decade past, Seven Girlfriends (catch that on DVD or TV when you can) -- is lovely, as usual, and she's abetted well by Feuerstein (in shades, above), who combines his con-man exterior with enough charm and sex appeal to capably fill the leading-man role. Malick is appropriately surface-mean/kindness beneath, and Wight is generally a delight as the the knucklehead of the title who becomes a fab fighter in no time flat.

Ten-year-old boys are probably the movie's main target, and they'll love the various "fight" scenes, such as the one above -- with a bear.  But parents who accompany them to the theater may find themselves chuckling along with it all, too, as there's enough of those fights (plus Wight and some other well-known wrestlers) on display to please dad. For mom, there's a surprising amount of "love interest" here: the Hardin/Feuerstein off-and-on romance, and Knucklhead himself manages a lovely little relationship with the sweet and funny Rebecca Creskoff -- advice about which he gets from Ms Hardin, below.

Over all, this cast of pros, under the guidance of director Michael W. Watkins (shown at right: coincidence: TrustMovies covered Watkins' earlier horror film Circle just two days ago), turns this wrestling/road trip/romance/fart-and-poop-fest into surprising comedic fun. The movie, released by Samuel Goldwyn Films, open Friday, more or less nationwide -- for weekend/daytime showings only (Is this a family film, or what!) You can find the locations, including the Quad Cinema in NYC, here.

Photos (excepting the one of Mr Watkins, at right) are from the film itself, courtesy of Van Redin/WWE Studios.

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