A correction was made to this review on March 10, 2005.
Mockumentary “Sledge: The Untold Story” delivers a fair quotient of laughs as it chronicles the rise, fall and rise again of a Hollywood action star whose ego-laden excesses bear strong resemblance to those of fallen idol Steven Seagal. Pic’s sharp spoofs of big-budget pics, much abetted by writer-star David Leitch’s stuntman/fight choreography expertise, provide giddy highlights that nudge the film past more pedestrian stretches. Given the flagging novelty value of this overtapped genre, “Sledge” ought best go straight to the small screen, where numerous star cameos rep a major plus.
A boy ballet prodigy in native Sheboygan Falls, Wis., Francis Allen Sledgewick (the likeable Leitch) travels to Hollywood as part of the “Chip ‘n’ Dales” male stripper revue, then gets picked to star in Bruce Lee-type martial arts sequel “Blood Fight 2.” He’s hapless until flamboyant choreographer pal Glenn (Nathan Lee Graham) teaches him to treat the action sequences like rhythmic dance routines. Voila!: A star, renamed “Frank Sledge,” is born.
Encouraged by one boorish co-star to become a demanding on-set diva, Frank loses friends, gains girth and fights umpteen new addictions even as his fortunes continue to rise. Eventually, however, he sabotages his own career.
Playing themselves, a solid roster of actual leading industry lights — including Angelina Jolie, Carrie-Anne Moss, Sean Young, Kelly Hu, Debbie Allen, Brett Ratner, Hugo Weaving and Richard Lewis — offer amusing “interview” commentary on the fictive subject’s roller-coaster past. But funniest bits by far are alleged excerpts from Sledge’s hit pics. “Below the Law,” “Under Attack” and “Out for Vengeance” perfectly ape the leaden tough-guy dialogue and ponderous self-regard of peak Seagal vehicles (Leitch duly wears a black ponytail and padded paunch), while “Jimbo” parodies “Rambo” formulae.
Pic’s most spectacular and hilarious set piece is the climactic sequence from “Computer Generated Environment That Enslaves Us” — a hysterical spin on “The Matrix” as an action-adventure musical wherein evil replicants wage a chop-socky dance-off against our Fosse-influenced loner hero, complete with gravity-defying CGI. (Leitch and debuting feature helmer Brad Martin were both involved with “Matrix: Reloaded.”)
Weakest element is the intermittent onscreen narration by smarmy Brit TV “documentarian” Richard Orchid, played in far too nudge-nudge-wink-wink a fashion by Homes Osbourne.
No doubt pulling in many a favor from the filmmakers’ industry friends, pic makes good use of studio lots, elaborately cheesy FX, and the kind of bad stunt/martial arts that only real experts can flub so well. Perfs are a bit variable, sometimes over-the-top, but Leitch creates a convincing naif-cum-monster. Tech package will shine best on the small screen.