‘The Wrestler’

Rated R for violence, sexuality/nudity, language and some drug use.

“The Wrestler” (Mickey Rourke) is, appropriately enough, about a sad and lonely part-time wrestler, professionally known as Randy the Ram. His life and career are a ruin; he has scars on and below the surface. Once a giant star in the world of wrestling, he is now reduced to performing in school gyms for a few crumpled bills. He also works part-time toting boxes at a rather dismal grocery store.

Unable to pay his rent, he is locked out of his trailer, forced to sleep in his rusting van. He finds release in a sleazy stripper bar. And he is particularly sweet on an aging (mid-40s) “sex-performer” (Marisa Tomei), professionally known as “Cassidy” but really named Pam. To top it off, they all live in a shabby section of rust-belt New Jersey.

Five minutes into the film and I was ready for a fist-full of Zoloft.

Randy hates his grocery store job and longs for a return to his glory days in the ring, but his body can’t take any more of the abuse. Steroids and drugs prop him up but soon he has a heart attack and finds himself staring death and destitution in the face. He wants to find the daughter he abandoned years ago and make amends. You know, marry a heart-of-gold stripper, reconcile with the daughter, and then resign himself to a career in toting food stuffs full time.

But this is not your typical Hollywood movie; no happy endings.

Instead it is the type of movie that film critics love. They positively got weak in the knees over this one. I am not so sure about the general audience’s reaction. This is a movie about rather grungy has-beens who don’t seem to allow showers to interrupt their daily, if not weekly, schedule. If you go to see this movie, take a gander at Mickey’s fingernails. I did and my shrieks probably confused and annoyed more than a few people sitting around me.

Rourke was once a big movie star who got the big bucks. But he got the big head and alienated just about everybody. Casting agents started losing his number. He took up boxing for real and got his face bashed in and his body got pretty messed up maybe thanks to steroids … and other certain expensive but damaging drugs. He lost his money and his bright future. So Mickey Rourke has a genuine affinity with Randy “The Ram.” Rumor has it Rourke did this movie for free so he could make a comeback. Apparently it is working. He has already won the Golden Globe for “The Wrestler” and he was nominated (but did not win) the SAG award. He has won a score of other awards and is up for the Oscar.

Marisa Tomei won an Academy Award back in 1992 (for “My Cousin Vinny”). And she is apparently quite serious about her craft. So much so that she appears several times topless … once in a fishnet top that would cause Hugh Hefner to gag.

If either of these people sat next to you in a bus, you’d take a taxi … to your house for a hot shower and maybe screen a DVD of Mary Poppins in order to counteract the effect.

OK, I know, I am being bourgeois about this, but I don’t have any sympathy for this character. He was a first-class, self-absorbed, selfish jerk and now he feels sorry for himself. He was self destructive when life was good and when life turned bad … he wanted to say he was sorry and wanted his daughter and stripper girlfriend to kiss his boo-boos and make everything all better.

He did it his way and now is shocked he can’t repair the damage. I am fully aware that his is a brilliant empathetic performance, but Rourke didn’t have to dig too deep for it. To be fair, I should point out, that my lack of enthusiasm is just about the lone groan in a chorus of hosannas.

Mickey Rourke is not one of my favorite actors. I am glad that unlike Randy “The Ram,” he got a second chance. I hope he doesn’t blow it like Randy did. Maybe for Mr. Rourke there will be a Hollywood ending.

“The Wrestler” gets (from me) only three and a half bow ties out of five.

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