Next up for our Fantasia International Film Festival coverage is American Fighter: The Wrestler
A sequel to a film I had no idea existed, originally based on a true story I also had no idea existed, but I’m glad this came into my life. The story itself (the first film – American Wrestler: The Wizard) is worth reading into ( link – HERE -), the incredible story of a kid from Iran, who moves to America and finds his feet in the college wrestling team.
The sequel then takes a slightly more aggressive approach to his wrestling abilities. Less so about personal triumph, more so about family loyalty by any means necessary. In a slightly far-fetched linear story about underground fighting in order to retrieve his mother from Iran where she is being held, we follow Ali (George Kosturos – same as first film), as he batters and bruises anyone who stands in his path.
A film with this content originally felt like it belonged on a WWE direct to video endeavour, resting solely on the few wrestlers who they’d taken away from house shows to generate more revenue and content for the behemoth that is WWE. However, what becomes quickly evident in this film by Shaun Paul Piccinino and Carl Morris, is that everyone can act for a start, but secondly, it doesn’t try to be anything other than a bit of fun.
Introduced to the film with Rick Springfield’s Jessies Girl playing out to a panning shot of the college campus, we’re very much in the early 1980s. The fashion, the cars, the high school jock vs nerd dynamic, it’s your quintessential 1980s movie, throwback nostalgia but seemingly authentic. It’s slightly strange that something so playful would be born out of a story based on political turmoil, hostage situations and attempted to be resolved through bashing people’s faces in.
But Oddly Enough, It Works.
Tommy Flanagan putting in a captivating turn as ringleader and bookie McClellen, intimidating yet intriguing, he really was a step above the rest. His back and forth with Sean Patrick Flanery as the jaded medic and ex-underground fighter Duke was intense, and he brought George Kosturos to his level whenever they were in the same scene. There’s a lot to be enjoyed with this film outside of the central performances; the fight sequences were well-paced within the film itself and well-choreographed too. It had a twinge of Bruce Lee’s Game of Death, both in terms of the never-ending supply of increasingly difficult opponents to battle and the variety of styles on display.
All in all, I think your ability to like this film depends on how much you like films of this type. I don’t think it’s going to win over any new fans of the genre, but if you enjoy films with a bunch of fighting, a simple plot, and long for the 1980’s classics in a way that doesn’t take itself too seriously (there’s even a little 1980’s style montage thrown in for good measure!), then you’ll get a kick, and a punch or two, out of this film.
Words by Mark Blakeway
Contributor/Reviewer @ Moviehooker