Full disclosure: I’m a massive wrestling fan. Watched faithfully (with a few down periods) since 1984, and while I am always excited at the idea of wrestling’s crossover into mainstream treatment, the results generally don’t do the “sport” any favors.
And despite The Main Event being produced by WWE Studios and starring real-life WWE Superstars, it’s certainly not an exception to that rule.
The narrative follows Leo (Seth Carr) — your typical 11-year-old kid who has friends, deals with bullies and loves WWE. He lives with his father (Adam Pally) and his grandmother (Tichina Arnold). The latter also loves WWE, but only because she’s horny and thinks the guys are hot.
When Leo stumbles upon a luchador mask that gives the wearer superhuman strength and speed, he decides to enter WWE’s competition to become the next WWE Superstar. It’s a tournament where the winner receives a WWE contract.
Leo has to protect his secret identity from everyone because … who would let a kid be a wrestler? It’s a silly plot contrivance, one that allows for comedic situations where Leo has to turn off lights in order to thwart the bullies, bank robbers or whomever else needs to be taught a lesson.
The story apes well-worn movie tropes and the resulting cliché mosaic is pretty much exactly what you’d expect. Think Rookie of the Year by way of The Mask, with bits and pieces cobbled from all over for character beats. It’s paint-by-numbers scripting, and chances are most of the writers involved — four credited ones, although I’d be very surprised if any of them spent more than a couple of days on it — won’t be names from whom you’ll see much again.
There’s a strange subplot revolving around an absentee mother; Leo’s grandmother is from his mom’s side, picking up the slack when mom ran off with someone else. Also, Dad has a job, which means he’s a workaholic and doesn’t speak with his son, and they’ll sooner or later have to confront those feelings as well.
This is pure Nickelodeon-grade entertainment, with a hastily-assembled script (or at least I hope so) that largely plays like WWE catchphrase Mad Libs. Even for a veteran like me, it grew tiresome quickly. The acting is generally mediocre, although I’d suggest if you’re looking for competent acting, you’re in the wrong place. The kids are the stars and bring all the pathos of your typical Disney Channel series.
Among the grownups, Arnold gets the most spotlight. Looking like Taraji P. Henson’s big sister, she gets the most to do, alternating between comic relief, and worrying about her grandson and son-in-law. Pally is mostly there to be dour and confused, neither impressing nor disappointing in a relatively small role.
Ken Marino (The State) is probably the most recognizable non-WWE face in the film. His small role as the main heavy’s manager / mouthpiece is appropriately over the top, but this feels like a paycheck project that brings him some cash between more fulfilling (and meatier) fare.
For years, I’ve lamented the depiction of wrestling in films. Already an exaggerated art, the movies amp it up even further to make it look awkward and silly; The Wrestler came closest to doing it right, but even then at times it came off wrong. Here it’s another clown show, with people flying comically far when they’re thrown, or spinning in midair multiple times when they’re clotheslined. For brief moments here and there, though, the movie benefits from the presence of the professionals, and some of the moves look right.
The real opportunity this film presents is to showcase WWE’s talent as they all look to get into movies. Keith Lee is an up-and-comer in WWE’s NXT division and gets a big opportunity here as a fellow wannabe superstar. He mostly shines, even if he looks like your friend’s dad when you were in ninth grade.
The Miz, Kofi Kingston and a host of others also make appearances as themselves, mostly there to be onlookers and wince at the wrestling movies. They’re harmless enough. Truth be told, that’s probably the best descriptor for this movie as well. It’s a harmless trifle — not particularly entertaining, well-made or memorable, but kids between the ages of 8-12 who are WWE fanatics will probably love it.
More power to them. As for me? I’ll throw on No Holds Barred.