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Not ready to ‘Rumble’

December 20, 2021
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Sometimes, the elevator pitch is enough. You hear the basic description of the movie and you’re in. This isn’t to say that you know this movie will be great or even good, just that the boiled-down fundamental concept is enough to intrigue.

So it is with “Rumble,” the new animated film streaming exclusively on Paramount+. In essence, this film is basically “Professional wrestling, only with massive kaiju-style monsters.” It’s an idea that certainly appeals to the 14-year-old boy in me.

The film was initially intended for a theatrical release, but the powers that be ultimately decided (after pushing the date a couple of times) to send it straight to the streamer. It is a decision that, upon watching the movie, makes one wonder why that wasn’t the plan all along.

It’s not that “Rumble” is bad so much as that it is … boring. One can squint and see the pieces of a better movie scattered here and there, but the truth is that the film never quite manages to take advantage of the various and sundry cartoonish elements – figurative and literal alike – that the conceit invites. Instead, we get a film that offers up watered-down versions of familiar themes – underdog sports story, familial legacy, etc. – and never really manages to go anywhere with them.

Look – if I’m dozing off during a movie about wrestling kaiju, someone somewhere has made some pretty significant errors.

The world of “Rumble” is one in which the predominant spectator sport – a sport around which a great deal of community identity is built – is Monster Wrestling, wherein enormous creatures do battle in professional wrestling-style bouts. And it is very much pro wrestling – we get promos and move sets and general pageantry that will look very familiar to anyone who ever followed the WWE or its ilk.

The small town of Stoker has an outsized presence in Monster Wrestling, thanks to its current champion Tentacular (Terry Crews) and a legacy that includes a former champ, the legendary Rayburn, who was lost at sea along with renowned trainer Jake Coyle years ago.

Winnie Coyle (Geraldine Viswanathan) is Jake Coyle’s 18-year-old daughter. She has maintained her love of the sport, even occasionally helping Tentacular’s trainer Siggy (Tony Danza) – himself once a Jake Coyle protégé – with advice.

However, Stoker is shaken to its core when Tentacular, upon winning the championship, turns heel and abandons the town for greener pastures. And when that happens, it comes out that the town’s finances will utterly collapse if they don’t have a monster to fight in their stadium. A distraught Winnie takes it upon herself to find a replacement.

A trip to an underground wrestling match introduces her to Steve (Will Arnett), a monster who ekes out his living serving as a designated loser, throwing matches to help get other monsters over. Winnie manages to convince him to let her train him in an effort to save the town.

Of course, it isn’t as easy as all that. It turns out that Steve has his own connections to Stoker – connections that he’s avoided for some time – while Tentacular has his own motivations for wanting Stoker and its stadium to no longer be a force in Monster Wrestling.

Can this inexperienced monster/trainer combo do enough to save the day? Or will this heel turn wind up pinning the town and its residents, sending them to defeat?

I mean … you probably know how it’ll turn out.

I really wanted to like “Rumble.” I wanted to believe that its schedule bouncing was due to outside factors. But upon viewing, it became clear pretty quickly that this movie landed here because of its quality rather than the circumstances surrounding it.

A lot can be forgiven when your starting point is “giant monster pro wrestling” – there’s plenty of wiggle room regarding what you can reasonably expect – but one thing that this sort of film absolutely cannot be is dull. And “Rumble” is DULL – even the action sequences, which could have been such a delight, mostly fall flat. The majority of jokes and references either barely land or miss the target altogether.

Obviously, I’m not expecting narrative brilliance from a movie about enormous creatures fighting (or fake fighting – it’s not really made explicitly clear), but come on – you have to give me something. The character designs are meh and the characterizations are sub-par – the movie doesn’t even look that great, which for something so clearly constructed around spectacle is a big whiff.

It’s not a total loss. There are some sports movie moments that click and there are a couple of gags that work – there’s a running bit involving a human/monster commentator team that made me chuckle (the human is voiced by ESPN’s own person-shaped megaphone Stephen A. Smith), for example. But in the end, the characters don’t resonate.

It’s a shame, because this is a solid voice cast. Arnett at least seems to be trying to have some fun. Viswanathan is fine, though this is a wildly underwritten lead character. Crews is going for it in his inimitable Terry Crews manner. There’s a mishmash of comedic actors (Ben Schwartz, Brian Baumgartner, Danza) and wrestlers (Roman Reigns, Becky Lynch) that feels like an odd but appropriate marriage. Hell, Tony Shaloub is in this!

And yet … it just doesn’t work.

“Rumble” is a perfect example of the vast chasm that can exist between the quality of an idea and the quality of its execution. I was here for a kaiju pro wrestling movie, but this one never comes together. We hoped for a superstar, but what we got was a jobber.

[1.5 out of 5]

Last modified on Monday, 20 December 2021 10:50

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