Despite a sparkling A-list cast including but not limited to Florence Pugh, Nick Frost and Dwayne Johnson reprising his legendary “Rock” persona, despite a great real-life background story, and despite comedy master Stephen Merchant being at the helm as writer-director, this movie never really comes off.
The elements of humour, sentimentality and gonzo wrestling action hang awkwardly together – and Johnson as himself is the most uncomfortable I’ve ever seen him on screen. Comedy and irony are not allowed to encroach on the film’s upbeat message, and the drama doesn’t reach out beyond a wrestling fanbase.
It’s based on the true story of the British-born WWE wrestler Paige who started in the ring as a teenager for her mum and dad’s Norwich-based family promotion and got a heartstopping shot at glory in the American big league.
Her family’s knockabout tale was the subject of a likable Channel 4 documentary in 2012. Now, with the corporate blessing of The Rock and WWE, it is inflated to the status of inspirational comedy-heartwarmer.
Pugh is the badass Paige, Frost and Lena Headey are her grip’n’grappling mum and dad, and Jack Lowden is her brother and fellow wrestler Zak, who must deal with his macho jealousy when Paige impresses the Americans.
Unfortunately, the central theme of her fractious relationship with her family is weakened when she spends so much time away from them in America trying out for the WWE under reality-show conditions, while Vince Vaughn phones in his performance as the tough coach.
Meanwhile, the film confusingly has to create a quasi-family of competitive-slash-supportive American wannabe wrestlers that Paige is up against, while she is away from her actual family.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t some funny lines. The Americans love Paige’s accent: “You sound just like a Nazi in a movie!”