Having floundered with a series of stock actioners, WWE Entertainment attempts to earn cinematic credibility via an Amerindie template with Legendary, a down-home fable of familial healing that asks wrestling star John Cena to hold his weight opposite Patricia Clarkson. It’s a severe mismatch, though Mel Damski’s film wisely limits the two stars’ shared screen time and the stone-faced Cena’s emotional heavy lifting, instead pivoting its story around teenager Cal (Devon Graye), a scrawny Oklahoma nerd who decides to take up wrestling in order to foster a relationship with estranged older bro and famed squared-circle combatant Mike (Cena). Guilt over his father’s death led Mike to abandon the family for oilrig work, interchangeable one-night stands, and rampant boozing. Once Cal shows up on Mike’s ratty trailer doorstep, however, things begin to turn around for both men as well as for mom (Clarkson), a narrative trajectory toward redemption depicted through numerous montages of Mike training Cal and the kid then applying those lessons—as well as those gleaned from chats with Danny Glover’s fisherman sage, whom he keeps running into down by the river—to become a successful wrestler.
Soft-hued cinematography of small-town life (blooming foliage, crowded school gyms, dilapidated buildings) encase the proceedings in a formulaic faux-realistic atmosphere, while the soundtrack’s sub-Three Doors Down hard rock and an occasional brawl involving the burly Cena make sure the proceedings don’t stray too far from the WWE fanbase’s wheelhouse. Legendary doesn’t offend, but its sappy earnestness can be tough to stomach, especially when the script takes great, inauthentic pains to shun anything remotely risqué, as when it has characters avoid cursing by saying laughably cleaned-up things like “Pop a cap in his butt.” As a mother wracked by guilt over her terrible failings as a parent, Clarkson emotes her brains out but still can’t overshadow the material’s low-key character-drama affectations, which are so aggressively put forth that the film would be far better suited for the Hallmark Channel, and confirms—as if one couldn’t have already guessed beforehand—that the WWE remains far better equipped to execute piledrivers than poignancy.