Review (2009): The Wrestler: Like going to the Sportatorium

Even in his late 50s, Mickey Rourke looks like he could take out the entire Von Erich family.

The Wrestler (R, 107 minutes): Watching bulked-up Mickey Rourke trudge through an arena was like a trip back in time — to the gritty old Dallas Sportatorium days on Industrial Boulevard.

You hear the body slams on the canvas or see someone handing a wrestler a folding chair, and, boy does it brings back great memories.

Memories of the Von Erichs, Skandar Akbar, Kamala the Ugandan Giant.

Call me old school, but I’ll take that kind of wrestling over these slick pay-per-view productions today.

And that’s why I like The Wrestler. It’s gritty. Done in film with low-production emphasis, the film graphically attacks your senses — just like a barnstorming wrestling stop. You could feel the audience tense up when Rourke’s character, Randy “The Ram” Robinson, puts his body through all sorts of needless punishment.

It’s also a great story. Yes, it’s been told before: A riches-to-rags tale about a pretty-boy entertainer who’s enduring personal demons for a return to the spotlight only to be missing basic emotional needs.

This time, no one told that story better than Rourke, who, based on his recent history, admits such a role wasn’t that much of a stretch. Nic Cage was originally cast, but all he would have done is a lot of brooding. Rourke made you believe in the character without brooding.

Through most of the film, Rourke’s character realizes his mortality and works to repair his life. After he awkwardly handles relationships with a distant stripper (Marisa Tomei) and his estranged daughter (Evan Rachel), Rourke realizes that he has more grace and poise on the wrestling mat than in real life.

So, it gets a bit predictable toward the end. And the camaraderie of the wrestlers seems a bit — I’m not going to say fake — far-fetched.

As far as ring movies, it’s no Raging Bull, but it’s not Nacho Libre either.

Best time for a bathroom break: When a pack of guys harasses Marisi Tomei early in the movie. Whatever is established (Rourke’s character’s infatuation with Tomei’s character and the scenes that Tomei’s character … uh, dominates) is established again throughout the movie.

Favorite Mickey Rourke memory: His role as Motorcycle Boy in Rumble Fish, and the scene in which he sits in a gritty bar with Dennis Hopper and Matt Dillon while Tom Waits shuttles drinks and Francis Ford Coppola directs. Wow. I would have loved to been in the next booth over. Here’s the video.

Date movie: Sure. But one tip for the guys:  When Marisi Tomei comes on, send your date out for the popcorn refill.

Availability now: It’s on DVD, but I haven’t seen it on cable yet.


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