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Why Warner Bros.' much-hyped wrestling movie tanked

Who needs the silver screen, says Ty Burr, when the good stuff is already on TV

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Why Warner Bros.’ much-hyped wrestling movie tanked

This was not how the script was supposed to play out.

With its fervent bordering on pathological TV following, you’d think that professional wrestling would be a hammerlock to cross over to the movies. The characters are already cartoons, the plotlines are as broad and baroque as any daytime soap opera, the violence is profuse and ritual. What’s to stop a wrestling flick from wiping those other pip-squeak narrative movies off the mat?

Well, something coldcocked ”Ready to Rumble” in its debut week at the box office. The raucous comedy made a meager $5.3 million, well behind other newcomers like ”Rules of Engagement” and ”Return to Me” and previously released titles ”Erin Brockovich,” ”The Road to El Dorado,” and ”The Skulls”. This despite opening on a fairly massive 2,585 screens and a braying cross-promotion with Time Warner’s World Championship Wrestling franchise.

Why didn’t wrestling fans go? ”Ready To Rumble” got poisonous reviews, but that was to be expected: Movie critics and pro wrestling go together like sushi and Cheez-Whiz, and I can’t imagine your average, self-respecting fan of the Rock taking his or her filmgoing cues from the New York Times (or Entertainment Weekly, for that matter). Would ”Rumble” have pulled in a larger crowd if it had been a product of Vince McMahon and the WWF rather than Ted Turner’s much-abused WCW (i.e., if it had featured mat stars like Chyna and Tazz rather than Goldberg and Diamond Dallas Page)? Would it have reached a larger audience if it had placed the wrestlers front and center instead of trotting out a lame comedy plot that has David Arquette and Scott Caan trying to get a washed-up grappler (Oliver Platt?!?) back in the ring?

Who knows? Maybe, just maybe, fans of pro wrestling are smarter than the stereotype image that the mainstream media — and, by extension, Hollywood — likes to promulgate. The point isn’t that they know a dog of a movie when they smell it. The point is that they’re already getting everything they want from this sweaty, crass art form — the spectacle, the story lines, the brute characterizations, the head-spinning violence, the whole demento Coliseum comedy — in its ”RAW” form. They sense, perhaps, that ”Ready to Rumble” is just a sideshow, and that what unfolds on their TV is the main event.