Movie review

Rourke scores comeback in 'Wrestler'

Staff WriterJanuary 23, 2009 

Mickey Rourke is like a Weeble, isn't he? The man has led a life that's left him wobbly on occasion. But, as far as actually falling down is concerned, that's never an option.

Showing that Robert Downey Jr. isn't the only disgraced '80s actor who can make a meteoric comeback, Rourke is the star attraction in "The Wrestler," a movie that showcases Rourke's durability as a thespian. His character may spend nearly two hours getting beaten and bruised, physically and emotionally, but he always bounces back, ready to swing just like the cat who's playing him.

Rocking dirty blond locks, Rourke is all worn-out brawn as former wrestling superstar Randy "The Ram" Robinson. A man who once sold out Madison Square Garden, he's now trading blows on the indie circuit, putting on a show for folks in VFW halls, when he's not making ends meet working at a New Jersey grocery store.

The camera trails The Ram as he maintains his working-class life while occasionally jumping back into the ring to relive his glory years. He occasionally pops over to the nearby strip club, where he finds a confidant (and, hopefully, a girlfriend) in Cassidy (Marisa Tomei, letting it all hang out in more ways than one), a lap-dancing single mom who's just as past-her-prime as her loyal customer Robinson.

One night, a particularly brutal, hardcore match sends Robinson to the hospital, where he's informed his weak heart can't take another beating. Faced with bowing out of pro wrestling, as well as his own mortality, Robinson reaches out to his estranged daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) in hopes of righting that wrong before it's too late.

Directed rather naturalistically by the usually overambitious Darren Aronofsky, working from a script padded with blue-collar angst by Robert Siegel, "Wrestler" exposes several things in its simple, underdog-tale narrative. It gives us that backstage side of professional wrestling, the side where wrestlers plan out their moves ahead of time. But it also reveals a dark side the regularly extravagant industry would not like you to see, one where once-popular wrestlers get discarded and have to fend for themselves once they become damaged goods. (After watching this, you'll realize why Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson bailed from the WWE to become a safe, comfortable Disney star.)

With Rourke as the star of the show, it'll seem very obvious to many that "Wrestler" feels like a grungy, hard-luck riff on his own life and career. There are moments in this movie, especially in a bar scene where Rourke and Tomei's characters nostalgically recall the party-'til-you-puke days of the '80s where you'll wonder if he's talking about the Ram or himself.

But, considering the man has had a rocky existence of his own (remember that weird phase when he became a professional boxer?), Rourke does appear to invest more in this role than he has in previous ones over the years. I mean, he certainly wasn't this multidimensional when he went up against Jean-Claude Van Damme in "Double Team." I guess when you star in a funny, heartbreaking story of punchy perseverance capped off by a Bruce Springsteen song such as "The Wrestler," you either bring the pain or don't bring it at all.

craig.lindsey@newsobserver.com, 919-829-4760 or blogs.newsobserver.com/unclecrizzle

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