As recent stabs at low-end ready-made-franchise features go, “Ready to Rumble” rates a notch below the KISS-centric “Detroit Rock City” and a couple above Jerry Springer’s “Ringmaster” — in other words, closer to stupid-fun than stupid-toxic. (Yes, even at this level, quality distinctions can be made.) A witless screenplay won’t trouble fans drawn in by pic’s World Championship Wrestling theme, and lively direction by Brian Robbins (“Varsity Blues”) makes the knucklehead comedy go down painlessly enough. But given tepid response to such bigscreen spinoffs of late, major ka-ching may not be heard until “Rumble” is rental-ready.
Gordie (David Arquette) and Sean (Scott Caan) are losers even by the standards of Lusk, Wyo. — they have jobs emptying out Porta-Potties, still live with their parents and repel prospective girlfriends like Raid.
Their big joy in life is watching WCW “Monday Nitro” matches, even if Gordie’s cop dad carps that “wrestling’s for dirtbags and lily-pickers.” Indeed, the doofus duo are probably the only employable beings alive who think such TV pec-slamming is “for real” — Sean calls its fully scripted players “heroes of history, superior athletes.” When the “Nitro” showboat comes to Cheyenne, they’re present to see personal fave and longtime heavyweight “champion” Jimmy King (Oliver Platt) get creamed. Truly so, since latter’s unscrupulous manager, Titus Sinclair (Joe Pantoliano), is sick of this “ungrateful tub of lard” and arranges an unscripted massacre. Dazed and bruised, the King seems out of the game for good.
Gordie and Sean embark on a “quest” to restore their icon’s glory. Finding him soused and sulky in a trailer park, they haul him off to get in shape under the tutelage of an old-school tough-as-nails trainer (Martin Landau), then finagle a Vegas rematch that will win back the King’s crown. Chief obstacles to this goal are Sinclair, rival wrestler Diamond Dallas Page (appearing, like many WCW personalities, “as himself”), and Rose McGowan as a booty-shaking “Nitro Girl” who seduces Gordie for duplicitous purposes.
Given lack of any truly inspired gags, let alone any notable plot turns, pic could profitably have arrived at its silly, flashy finale far more quickly than in 107 minutes. Scenarist Steven Brill — from whose charmed quill sprang the first three “Mighty Ducks” features — comes up with little more than a string of rote scatological lines and crotch-kicking incidents. There’s no attempt to satirize the WCW world (admittedly, that may not be possible).
Physical humor is strictly on the tube program’s body-slammin’ level, leaving one wistful for the more ticklesome Three Stooges–type doinks! of yore. Some late-arriving, half-hearted “inspirational” stuff — ya gotta follow your dream, etc. — should have been left on the cutting room floor.
Nonetheless, and despite its eventual attenuated feel, “Rumble” is a colorful and pacey enough no-brainer under Robbins’ helming. It’s considerably juiced by Arquette, who has done this doofus act many times before — not always appropriately, but to great effect when relevant (as in the “Scream” pics and his AT&T commercials). His over-the-top ubergeek body lingo and facial expressions render many an otherwise routine moment hilarious. (Gordie’s girly-man squeak of indignation on “Wrestling is not fake!” is priceless.)
The bull-necked Caan, who has yet to make a defining screen impression (but looks more like his dad, James Caan, in every outing), provides a game, if uninspired, foil. Curiously, the talented Platt fails to connect with a yokel role that might easily have flown in the mitts of more limited comics like Tom Arnold. He’s just OK; ditto Landau, Pantoliano and McGowan. Numerous WCW wrestlers deliver their lines, and noisy trademarked characters, on cue.
Lensing, production design and other aspects are appropriately slick and garish; soundtrack benefits from numerous unimaginative but effectively chosen rock classics.