The Evolution of The Lonely Island Sports Movie

It’s been three years since The Lonely Island (Akiva Schaffer, Jorma Taccone, and Andy Samberg) released their latest commercial-bomb-turned-cult–classic, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, and that 2010s update to Walk Hard pop music biopic parody finally has its follow-up. While Popstar mocked the modern “concert documentaries” (read: feature length infomercials) of acts like Justin Bieber & One Direction as an excuse to stage ZAZ-style gags & The Lonely Island’s classic music video sketches, the group’s latest release adopts an even flimsier format to do the same: the visual album. Self-described as “a visual poem” and surprise-dropped on Netflix in a Beyoncé-evoking distribution strategy, The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience is pure Lonely Island goofballery. It’s difficult to tell if its visual album format is meant to be a joke at the expense of hubristic projects like Lemonade & Dirty Computer or more of a self-deprecating joke at the expense of The Lonely Island themselves for even attempting to pull off such a loftily minded project in the first place. Either way, its’ a brilliant move that not only updates their cinematic sensibilities to a more modern version of pop music media, but also removes two barriers that tend to stand in the way of what makes them so enjoyable to watch: the necessity of a plot to justify a feature-length film & the necessity of box office success to pay their producers’ bills. The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience isn’t as successful or as substantial of a work as Popstar, but it is one that further suggests that these very silly boys have finally reached a new sense of ambition & efficiency in their craft. It’s also an accomplishment that they’ve been building towards for years, if you consider the earlier, more restrained sports mockumentaries of their past as trial runs.

Appropriately enough, The Lonely Island’s cinematic career started with a feature-length sports narrative. While still producing Digital Shorts for SNL, the trio of pop music parodists delivered their first delightful box office bomb with 2007’s Hot Rod. While not quite as formally daring or riotously funny as Popstar (or even Jorma Taccone’s other SNL-era feature, MacGruber, for that matter), Hot Rod is still pretty damn hilarious from start to finish. It was the first instance when I can recall genuinely enjoying Andy Samberg beyond his usefulness as someone who makes Joanna Newsom laugh. Playing an overgrown man-child who wants to be a daredevil just like his deceased father, Samberg’s general mode in Hot Rod is slapstick comedy and it’s classically funny on a Three Stooges level as a result. Often missing jumps on his dirtbike & puking from the pain, Samberg’s titular Rod is far from the Evel Knievel Jr. he imagines himself to be. There’s a lot of solid humor derived from the disparity between Rod’s confidence & his actual abilities, which allows you to have a good laugh at his expense even when he drowns, catches fire, or explodes. That’s an interesting subversion of the traditional underdog sports story, but it’s still one that plays its comedic beats relatively safely. The premise is mostly grounded in reality yet is careful not to resemble any real-life public figures too closely (not even Knievel). Its structure remains true to the traditional sports movie narrative too, even if its greatest strengths rely on long strings of non-sequitur gags. For instance, most of the film boasts a killer 80s synthpop soundtrack, but towards the climax when Rod’s crew has their inevitable third-act falling-out, the score suddenly switches to melodramatic string arrangements – effectively poking fun at its own necessity to transform into A Real Movie at the last minute. With more filmmaking experience under their belts & more celebrity star power backing up their audacity, their sports movies parodies only strengthened from there.

At this point in The Lonely Island’s career timeline, Hot Rod’s timid SNL Movie comedy template feels more like a one-off anomaly than an early wind-up for what Bash Brothers delivers. If anything, Bash Brothers feel like it’s the final film in a trilogy of sports parodies that Lonely Island initially produced for HBO, mostly as a creative outlet for Samberg. At a half-hour a piece, Samberg’s sports mockumentaries Tour de Pharmacy (2017) & 7 Days in Hell (2015) are the earliest telegraphs of where the Lonely Island crew would eventually go with Bash Brothers. Respectively tackling the real-life sports world controversies of doping in cycling & angry outbursts in tennis, Tour de Pharmacy & 7 Days in Hell fearlessly make fun of some of the biggest scandals in sports history (short of the O.J. Simpson murder trial) in violent jabs of ZAZ-style chaos. What’s most amazing about them is that they invite the real-life sports celebrities involved in those scandals to participate in their own mockery. John McEnroe drops by 7 Days in Hell to poke fun at a fictional “bad boy of tennis” (played by Samberg, naturally) whose antics with sex, drugs, and physical violence result in a deadly Wimbledon match that drags on for a solid week, disrupting & disgracing a once-reputable sport. Serena Williams also pops by as a talking head, even through the media’s policing of her own supposed emotional outbursts is much more unreasonable than McEnroe’s. In Tour de Pharmacy, Lance Armstrong talks at length about how every single cyclist who competes in the Tour de France is aided by illegal substances, directly recalling his own downfall in a very public doping scandal. Wrestler-turned-comedian John Cena also appears as a steroids-enraged monster in the film, tangentially poking fun at the WWE’s own history with performance-enhancing drugs. Of course, both projects are still packed with the juvenile non-sequiturs & physical comedy gags that have been constant to Samberg’s sense of humor, now emboldened to be more sexually explicit than ever before thanks to the freedom of HBO – resulting in bisexual orgies, unconventional prostate stimulation, and characters high-fiving during cunnilingus. It’s the bravery of connecting those very silly gags to very real publicity crises for sports figures who are participating along with the creators that feels new & mildly transgressive.

As daring as it may be to trivialize real-life sports controversies in such a flippantly silly way, those two HBO productions still feel somewhat formally restricted. It wasn’t until Samberg rejoined with Schaffer & Taccone post-Popstar that his sports cinema mockery really hit is pinnacle, just a few weeks ago. The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience makes full use of all The Lonely Island’s best cinematic qualities: the music video sketch comedy of their SNL days, the rise-and-fall (and fall and fall) sports narrative of Hot Rod, the gross-out sex gags of MacGruber, the shameless evisceration of real-life sports scandals from Sandberg’s HBO mockumentaries and, finally, the chaotic disregard for traditional structure of Popstar. The Netflix-hosted half-hour comedy special wastes no time mocking the steroids abuse scandal that plagued the 1989 World Series run of the real-life “Bash Brothers,” Mark McGuire & Jose Conseco. The very first verse Samberg raps in this “visual poem” (read: loose collection of music videos) references steroids abuse, a theme that’s reinforced over & over again in the group’s usual 80s-era Beastie Boys cadence with lines like “I never finish sex because I’m so juiced out” and “Stab the needle in my ass until I am rich.” The genius of adapting this mockery to a visual album medium is that is allows the boys to go full-goof 100% of the time, packing in as many music video sketches as they please, unburdened by the necessity of a coherent plot. As funny as Samberg’s HBO specials were, they’re still fairly grounded mockumentaries that parody the tones & structure of many HBO Films productions of the past. Hot Rod is even more beholden to classic cinematic templates, falling well within the boundaries of a typical SNL movie even if its individual gags are specific to The Lonely Island’s sensibilities. While Bash Brothers can easily be seen as a swipe at the hubris of the visual album format, it ultimately just proves the point that it’s a genius, unrestrained medium that brings out the best #purecinema potential of any popstar who dares to utilize it – even incredibly silly parodists with a fetish for traditional sports narratives.

The Unauthorized Bash Bothers Experience feels like an epiphanic moment within The Lonely Island’s cinematic output, a culminating achievement in the sports movie template that they’ve been trying to crack open for more than a decade now. Of course, I wish that feature-length comedies like Popstar & MacGruber were more successful as theatrical gambles, but I am glad that these very silly boys have finally found a more viable niche for their sports movie parodies. I’m also glad to see these comedy nerds continue to take the piss out of our deeply flawed sports gods of yesteryear – an achievement that’s only make doubly fascinating by those gods’ participatory amusement in their own mockery.

-Brandon Ledet

Bumblebee (2018)

It is exceedingly rare for me to ever abandon a movie-watching project. I will occasionally drag my feet on some of my more daunting endeavors (for instance, it’s been five months since my last entry in my eternally ongoing Roger Ebert Film School series), but fully abandoning something once I’ve started is against my character as a self-flagellating completist. There is one major exception I can think of that contradicts this personal ethos, however: Michael Bay’s Transformers series. After catching a brief glimpse of a giant robot fighting a robo-dinosaur with an enormous sword (or some such exciting frivolity) in the trailer for a late-franchise sequel to Michael Bay’s Transformers, I decided to run through all five films in the series to see what I had been “missing out” on. I abandoned the project after just one movie, genuinely unable to continue. Between the soul-deadening CGI action, Shia LaBeouf’s “Ain’t I a stinker?” mugging, and the endless shots of Michael Bay drooling over Megan Fox’s exposed midriff, the 2007 film Transformers defeated me like no other cinematic monstrosity I can recall. I’m recounting this here to explain why the spin-off Bumblebee is such an unfathomably effective rehabilitation for the Transformers series. I can’t think of a big-budget franchise with a more drastic tonal turnaround that this wholesome, adorable spin-off to a series previously defined by broad, obnoxious machismo & cynical commercialism. I went into Bumblebee defeated by & disgusted with the Transformers; I left wanting to adopt one as a pet & a bestie.

A major factor of this turnaround is the change in creative voices in front of & behind the camera. Michael Bay is still writing (and cashing) checks as a producer on Bumblebee, but directing duties have been passed off to Laika mastermind Travis Knight, whose previous film Kubo and the Two Strings was one of Swampflix’s favorite movies of 2016. Knight’s expertise in animated storytelling is extremely useful in the CGI action sequences of the Transformers brand. The complexity of a sentient robot unfolding & rearranging its various parts to reassemble as a common automobile in these movies is usually sidestepped by making the visual display so bewildering that it’s impossible to coherently nitpick (or even observe) what’s on display. Not only does Knight clear up this visual clutter (once described as a “Cubist” use of CGI by an overzealous critic) with a clarity & simplicity in Bumblebee‘s action sequences; he also enhances them with the heartfelt emotional core that informs Laika’s consistently endearing output. That shift from horny leering & macho fist-pumping to genuine emotional investment in the film’s characters is likely also somewhat due to something never before seen in the Transformers franchise: a female screenwriter, Christina Hodson. Between Hodson’s writing & Knight’s emotive eye, Bumblebee doesn’t even take the time to salivate over the young, exposed body of its main female character (a teenage loner played by The Edge of Seventeen‘s Hailee Steinfeld). That’s a depressingly low bar to clear, but given Transformers‘s track record it’s remarkable all the same. Bumblebee even goes a step further by making that female character the POV-commanding protagonist, so that we care about her thoughts, her emotions, and her personal growth. Go figure.

Steinfeld stars in Bumblebee as an amateur car mechanic in 1980s California whose hobbies include working on a half-finished sports car her father left behind when he passed away & brooding alone to The Smiths instead of engaging with her surviving family. This teenage-brooding crisis turns around when she discovers and fixes up a VW Beetle abandoned in her uncle’s junkyard. What she doesn’t know (but the audience does) is that the Beetle in question is actually an alien transforming robo-species from a distant planet who is damaged & scared. This mismatched pair, the alien robot & the teenage mechanic who adopts it, teach each other strength, confidence, and familial love in a relatively small, contained story that happens to also include a bloodthirsty Cold War American government & a warring alien robo-species who want nothing but to tear them apart & destroy them. The story that unfolds from there is heavily informed by 80s & 90s kids’ movies clichés: resentment over a single-parent’s ability to move on; the big bad government’s stubborn insistence on destroying an adorable creature it doesn’t understand; the same-old 80s high school bully archetypes we’ve seen echoed & parodied into oblivion over the decades, etc. It’s a nostalgic 80s lens that naturally derives from the film’s Spielbergian schmaltz in its story about an E.T.-esque naive creature who needs help from an Earth child to find strength & find a path home. It’s a template that’s been repeated in titles as beloved as The Iron Giant & as lowly as Monster Trucks because, on a basic level, it just works. Even without this franchise’s origins as an adaptation of 80s Hasbro action figures, Bumblebee’s indulgence in 1980s Spielbergian nostalgia (along with tossed-off references to pop culture touchstones like Alf & The Breakfast Club) would still be more than justified, as it’s reinforced with a surprisingly genuine emotional core.

There are plenty of smaller details to praise about Bumblebee: John Cena’s turn as the broad The Marine-esque villain, the endearingly playful 80s pop soundtrack, the oversized emotions conveyed by the titular robot’s gigantic anime eyes, etc. Mostly, though, this film is remarkable for finding such an adorable & heartfelt angle on something that was initially so obnoxiously nasty it appeared fundamentally flawed & irredeemable. When Bumblebee crash-lands into this wholesome 80s kids’ adventure movie from his home planet, it feels like he’s fleeing the intergalactic clutches of Michael Bay’s libido & garishly rendered CGI. We’re as lucky to have him as the teenage loner who discovers him & fixes him up. It’s just too bad we can’t also hug him through the screen ourselves to show proper thanks.

-Brandon Ledet

John Cena is Corrupting Your Children

I attended many strange pro wrestling rituals when WrestleMania 34 descended upon New Orleans like a body odor blanket last month. I watched a cheeseburger/bear hybrid wrestle other kaiju-costumed nerds at a midnight show adorned with cardboard cities. I stood in the world’s longest bathroom line at a Ring of Honor event because the bro-to-lady ratio at indie wrestling shows is way out of hand. I may have even joined in with the “This is awful!” chants that concluded Mania proper, despite the previous seven hours of sports entertainment making me look like an ungrateful turd for doing so (I honestly can’t remember if I participated in that complaint or not, but the show was exhausting). However, no Mania Moment was as strange as watching the raunchy teen sex comedy Blockers with John Cena in a theater packed with his biggest fans, an experience that only feels more bizarre the further I get away from it. This year’s WrestleMania happened to coincide with Blockers’s opening weekend, so a John Cena promotional appearance at a screening of the film makes logical sense from a marketing standpoint, but the event clearly didn’t factor in the nature of Cena’s usual pro wrestling fanbase. Thanks to AMC, John Cena, and the Universal Pictures marketing machine, I watched an R-rated teen sex comedy with a crowd of very young, very impressionable children who only wanted to meet their pro wrestling superhero. It was hilarious.

John Cena’s transformation into R-rated comedy wildcard has been a gradual one. Three whole years ago, I wrote a piece in the wake of Trainwreck anticipating his transition “From the PG Era to a Solid R,” noting how drastically different his comedic presence in films like that Amy Schumer breakout and the then-upcoming Tina Fey project Sisters was from his usual “Never give up”/”Eat your vitamins” superhero character in-ring. Cena was the face of WWE as it shifted away from the gruesome violence & in-your-face sexuality of the company’s storied Attitude Era to a dedication to producing more child-friendly content. Recently, the attention paid to performers on the roster has spread more evenly, leaving Cena free to develop his comedic persona outside of the ring. Unlike The Rock, however, Cena has never fully detached from the WWE and still regularly appears in-ring as a competitor between film productions (including a squash match with the now-unretired Undertaker at this year’s Mania). This division of his time has lead to some truly bizarre self-contradictions in his public persona, like, say, the superhero to children everywhere butt-chugging a beer and handling Gary Cole’s testicles in an R-rated, femme sex comedy. Nothing has illustrated how absurd that dual career overlap can be to me than AMC’s Q&A screening of Blockers in New Orleans, though, which lured young children into a room to meet their wholesome hero, only to be faced with the raunchiest details of his onscreen career to date (including his naked ass in a final humorous coda).

One of the most charming things about John Cena is his self-aware wit, something he’s likely learned from working crowds of thousands simultaneously chanting & booing his name (older, smarkier fans have long soured on his wholesome superhero routine). His first remark during the Q&A portion of the Blockers screening was that “So many kids have grown up so fast” as his eyes nervously scanned the room. His improvisational crowd-work was continually impressive as he fielded questions about what he likes about New Orleans (drive-through daiquiris), his current opinion of The Rock (left WWE too early), and his decision to appear naked onscreen (“I didn’t think anyone could see me”). It’s honestly less surprising that that he has fit in so well with the post-Apatow style of improv-heavy comedic filmmaking than it is that more pro wrestlers haven’t been tapped for the opportunity, given how life on the road immediately responding to vocal crowds train you for the skill. For my own part, I got to directly ask Cena a question that’s interested me since that eye-opening performance in Trainwreck: why has he been so clearly drawn to R-rated, adult comedies in recent years? The answer, unsurprisingly, was a well thought-out and entirely self-aware history of his career onscreen as a film actor, only confirming that the motivation I inferred was a deliberate, personal choice.

Cena answered the question by dialing the clock back to the early years of WWE Studios in the nu-metal 2000s, when he starred in more straight-forward, The Rock-ish action pictures like The Marine and 12 Rounds (the latter of which was set in New Orleans, appropriately enough). He explained that he participated in those productions to satisfy a desire from his “boss” (presumably WWE owner Vince McMahon) to expand the pro wrestling behemoth’s media brand. According to Cena, those were “bad” movies he filmed as a kind of contractual obligation (I personal enjoy both titles he referenced a lot more than he seems to), while newer projects like Blockers & Trainwreck have been much more personally fulfilling. He’s grateful to have “a second chance”s on the big screen and is finally doing what he wants to do . . . by appearing in R-rated sex comedies? John Cena is a 41-year-old man and, thus, not the clean-cut supehero character he’s developed in the ring. In an effort “to grow up” and “expand” his “depth of character” in his public persona, he’s deliberately choosing projects to challenge the wholesome image he’s developed within WWE in a shrewdly practical (and seemingly fun) way. What he didn’t admit, if you’ll allow me some room for editorializing, is that he’s also damn good at it. His roles in Trainwreck & Blockers especially got a lot of comedic mileage out of contrasting his straight-laced muscle man image with comedically incongruous raunch. It only makes the juxtaposition funnier to know that he’s incredibly aware of that image & how to actively subvert it.

To be honest, having children in the room for a raunchy sex comedy wasn’t even the most absurd touch to the Blockers Q&A. What was really bizarre was the image of a theater full of wrestling fans pawing at Cena for handshakes & autographs once they realized security was not going to impede their approach. It felt like watching the third act of mother!, except most of the admirers were children and a pro wrestler was attempting to maintain control at the godlike center. Children love John Cena and it’s not too difficult to see why. Hell, I think I love John Cena, even though I would have had a much more muted, complicated reaction to his persona just three or four years ago. My own turnaround on his presence is partly a response to WWE’s recent allowance for his spotlight to drift to other worthy performers on their roster, but it’s likely just as much due to his deliberate expansion of “depth of character” by participating in R-rated, horned-up comedies like Blockers. However, unlike The Rock, Cena still wrestles on TV fairly regularly, which means he’s maintaining his younger, more wholesome fanbase at the exact same time. For one wonderfully bizarre afternoon at the start of WrestleMania weekend I got to see both halves of that bifurcated fanbase converge for a screening of a very good, very much adult sex comedy. Only one end of the John Cena fanbase divide could have been corrupted or traumatized by that experience, though: the children. Oh, won’t somebody please think of the children?!

-Brandon Ledet

Blockers (2018)

Although the recent coming-out melodrama Love, Simon had only a (very) minor impact at the box office, its significance as a safe, middle-of-the-road queer narrative within the larger mainstream filmmaking picture has been discussed at length in nearly all critical circles. An entire episode of the bonkers teen soap opera Riverdale was even dedicated to Love, Simon’s cultural impact on queer visibility, which seem outsized considering the sanitized, post-John Green mediocrity promised in its ads. The consensus argument seems to be that Love, Simon is important because of that mediocrity, that gay teens deserve their own bland popcorn fluff just as much as anyone else. It’s pointless to argue against that perspective, but for anyone who’s not especially interested in that kind of safe, sexless teen romance no matter what its orientation, I’d like to offer the high school sex comedy Blockers as potential counterprogramming. In Blockers, sex is exactly as fun, stupid, silly, gross, and awkward as it should be in a high school-set comedy. The film shifts away from the bro-friendly humor of the teen sex comedy’s American Pie & Porky’s past by approaching the subject from a femme, sex-positive perspective. It even has a remarkably deft coming-out story built into its DNA that matches the sentimentality promised by Love, Simon without the accompanying sexless schmaltz. I don’t mean to suggest that makes Blockers a better film by default or that Love, Simon doesn’t deserve the critical attention it’s being afforded. I’m just saying that if the ads for Love, Simon left you cold, Blockers might just be the trashy teen sex comedy antidote you’re looking for. It might even satisfy your craving for a modernized John Hughes emotional journey in the process.

Set over the course of a single night (prom night!), Blockers details the bungled execution of a “sex pact” between three teen friends who all plan to lose their virginity in tandem. Because they’re young women and not the typical Apatow-modeled dudes who usually helm these pictures, this plan was met with extreme resistance from their snooping parents. Leslie Mann is finally given to something to do for once as a stressed-out Alpha Mom who wants to protect her daughter form repeating her worst mistakes. John Cena, appearing in Pure Dad cargo shorts, is the typical overprotective father who’s terrified of his teen daughter’s sexuality despite his better judgment. Ike Barinholtz is the most nuanced of the three. He generally disagrees with the other parents’ sex-negative paranoia, but also wants to protect his own daughter, who he knows to be a closeted lesbian, from committing herself to a traumatizing heterosexual experience just to feel like she belongs. The heightened delusions & deranged coddling impulses that torment these parents are the butt of the film’s ultimate joke; their fear of young female sexuality is an eternally embarrassing punchline. Meanwhile, the three damsels they attempt to rescue (Kathryn Newton, Gideon Adlon, and MVP Geraldine Viswanathan, who steals every scene she’s afforded) are doing just fine navigating all the awkward, grotesque, humiliating, and absurdly silly pitfalls that accompany pangs of teenage horniness, as countless dudes in losing-your-virginity comedies have in the past. The blatant double standard in question is extensively & explicitly challenged in the film’s dialogue, but Blockers is rarely outright didactic in its sex-positive politics. Moralizing about the policing of femme teen sexuality is instead allowed to be a background flavor that enhances, but does not overpower the usual gross-out gags that steer the genre: butt-stuff, drug-trips, puke, unwelcome nudity – all the standard hallmarks of a post-John Waters mainstream comedy.

Like with most teen movies, the three girls’ personalities are visually established early on by their bedroom décor. The main girl’s bedroom is not as distinctly coded as her two besties’, but it does prominently feature a clue as to where the movie’s heart lies: a Sixteen Candles poster. Both Love, Simon and Blockers are chasing the John Hughes model of capturing the modern teen zeitgeist in a single picture and it’s lovely to see that they both feel the need to include prominent queer narratives in that mission (even if they happen to follow a coming-out misery pattern we’ve seen exhaustively repeated onscreen before). Blockers separates itself from Love, Simon in the open acknowledgment that sex & romance are both hilarious & disgusting, which is always going to be the more attractive route for me as an audience. I don’t think its own mold-breaking challenge to the gendered politics of the typical high school sex comedy are exactly revolutionary. if nothing else, The To Do List already delivered an excellent femme subversion of the trope to a tepid critical response in 2013 and 2014’s Wetlands has set the bar impossibly high for what a gross-out femme sex comedy can achieve. Blockers is a damn fun addition to that tide-change, though, one that’s surprisingly emotionally effective in its own continuation of a John Hughes tradition. Just like how critics are calling for a wave of normalized queer narratives in the Love, Simon vein, I’d love to live in a world where we’re afforded at least one of these gross-out femme sex comedies a year. Continuing to keep prominent queer characters as part of that tradition would also be ideal (which is admittedly something you don’t get in my pet favorites The Bronze or The To Do List), which is partly why Blockers is a shockingly well-considered precedent for how the teen sex comedy genre can remain both modernly relevant and true to its gross-out roots.

-Brandon Ledet

Surf’s Up 2: WaveMania (2017)

I might be the most forgiving audience in the world above the age of seven when it comes to WWE Studios’ animated children’s media, having given positive reviews for all four of the pro wrestling empire’s crossovers with Hanna-Barbera so far: WrestleMania Mystery, Stone Age SmackDown, Curse of the Speed Demon, and Robo-WrestleMania. Unfortunately, I could not extend my enthusiasm into the company’s latest animated crossover business venture, a sequel to the long-forgotten CG monstrosity Surf’s Up. Surf’s Up 2: WaveMania picks up the pieces of that middling work, which barely made back its budget, by continuing its age-old story of penguins who love to surf. Whatever conflicts the CG penguin surfers overcome in that first film will forever remain a mystery to me, as I’ve already suffered through one too many Happy Feet films to have any desire to catch up with their knockoffs. Still, there was something oddly appealing about the absurdity of watching a years-late, direct to VOD sequel to that nonsense where recognizable voice actors like Shia Labeouf & Zooey Deschanel were replaced by WWE Superstars. I was willing to give WaveMania a chance solely based on the potential novelty of pro wrestling personalities voicing muscular penguins who get off on the adrenaline rush of X-Games style sports. Instead of the penguin-themed Point Break I was hoping for, however, I mostly got a feature length screensaver, one that couldn’t even satisfy my own notoriously undiscerning tastes.

Jeremy Shada (Adventure Time‘s Finn the Human) replaces Shia Labeouf as a surf-happy penguin & Jon Heder (Napoleon Dynamite‘s Napoleon Dynamite) returns as his stoner chicken friend. They seem to have beef with a bully penguin & funny feelings for a Hot Lady penguin who lives on the same beach. Whatever relationship issues or internal obstacles that were overcome in the first film mean absolutely nothing here. These few holdovers from the original Surf’s Up film mostly just serve to inflate the egos of the pro wrestling Superstars that invade their franchise space. Their never-ending beach party is crashed by The Hang Five: penguin celebrities who have a taste for X-Games style thrills and suspiciously familiar names like Hunter (HHH), Paige (Paige), The Undertaker (The Undertaker), and J.C. (which either stands for Jesus Christ or John Cena; I can’t decide). Besides these sexed up muscle penguins, the crew is also followed by ring announcer Michael Cole in seagull form and lead by a perverted otter voiced by Mr. Vince McMahon himself. How do we know that this silver haired otter-daddy is a pervert? He repeatedly​ fantasizes onscreen about milking a fish’s udder with his mouth. The Hang Five crash the beach scene both looking for a legendary surf spot and covertly sizing up the original Surf’s Up crew for new members to possibly join their ranks. Along the way Shada’s protagonist penguin learns to control his anger in the face of bullies, the crew indulges in some X-treme sports, and McMahon drools over the thought of those sweet, sweet fish udders.

Of course, the real draw here for anyone who’s not a a surfer who’s suffered one too many concussions or a child with early stirrings of a sexual fetish for anthropomorphic penguins is the novelty of seeing pro wrestlers’ in-ring personas adapted to the equally unreal environment of an animated kids’ picture. For the most part, their individual personalities are coded in a fairly rigid, one dimensional way: J.C. is the face, Hunter is the heel, Taker is spooky, Paige is all about Girl Power, McMahon is the boss/sexual deviant. Watching this dynamic play out is especially strange in this particular moment for a couple extratextual reasons (namely Undertaker’s recent retirement at WrestleMania & Paige’s recent sex tape scandal), but the novelty of that context will only fade with time. Besides McMahon’s fish udder sucking, the most notable contribution to the film is made by J.C./Jesus Christ/John Cena. Cena’s an interesting presence here. His penguin surrogate delivers a lot of the child- pleasing buffoonery that keeps unshaved Redditors awake at night: he sports dog tags & sweat bands, shows off his “You Can’t C Me” five moves of doom routine, and makes eyeroll worthy statements like, “Eat right, exercise, and never give up . . . on being awesome!” There’s something a little self-deprecating about doing all this through the mouthpiece of a CG penguin, though, and he occasionally pokes fun at himself with lines like, “Wanna hear about the time I fought off a shark with only my camo shorts?” I don’t know if I’m warming up to Cena because of the excellent in-ring work he’s put in over the last three or so years or his sudden string of top notch cameos in mainstream comedies, but I found him to be the only significantly memorable presence in WaveMania that doesn’t involve sucking off a fish.

Surf’s Up 2: WaveMania‘s main flaw is a structural one, oddly enough. Instead of chasing the over-the-top absurdity of its pro wrestlers as X-Games penguins premise, the sequel attempts to normalize the scenarios by framing it as a mockumentary. Over-familiarity with recent mockumentary-style television like The Office, Modern Family, Parks & Recreation, the latest version of The Muppets, and so on makes the casual interview structure of the film feel stale and oddly forgettable, which shouldn’t be possible in any property where John Cena is a muscular bird who surfs and Vince McMahon sucks down “fish milk” (I refuse to drop how jarring that is). I am typically very lenient with WWE Studios cartoons relying on the basic absurdity of their premises, but the results were just too flat & uninteresting here, primarily due to that increasingly ubiquitous mockumentary style of comedy. If the company’s going to continue down this path of teaming up with financially-shaky children’s properties to promote their wrestlers, however, I’d like to suggest that they hook up with Laika next. Not only could Laika use the money most, but I’d be very much down for the stop motion sequel Kubo and the Two Tickets to WrestleMania. That at the very least has the potential to be a memorable watch.

-Brandon Ledet

Episode #12 of the Swampflix Podcast: The Marine (2006) & Pro Wrestling Documentaries

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Welcome to Episode #12 of The Swampflix Podcast! For our twelfth episode, James & Brandon discuss five essential pro wrestling documentaries with friend & WTUL radio DJ Brandon Lattimore. Also, James makes Brandon watch the John Cena action vehicle The Marine (2006) for the first time. Enjoy!

Production note: The musical “bumps” between segments were also provided by James.

-James Cohn & Brandon Ledet

Sisters (2015)

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threehalfstar

One great thing about films that strictly adhere to their genre is that they can afford to be hopelessly dumb & generic while still leaving an audience satisfied. It’s true of dumb action flicks. Its certainly true of cheap horror. And it’s largely true of silly comedies. Formulas exist for a reason. A genre-faithful film doesn’t need to be particularly inventive to deliver the goods. Past Amy Poehler/Tina Fey collaboration Baby Mama failed to deliver anything particularly memorable (except maybe the gag where Poehler’s feral mother-to-be refused to drink water because it’s gross), but Sisters is arguably just as dumb & just as generic, yet it works like gangbusters. The difference? Sisters is actually pretty damn funny.

I guess the trick for making a generic comedy vehicle work is mostly in the casting. Sisters casts Poehler & Fey somewhat against type (or at least switched from their roles in Baby Mama), with Poehler filling the role an A-type do-gooder who organizes charity initiatives for the homeless & owns a dog named Polenta. Fey is basically an echo of Jennifer Aniston’s whirlwind of an overgrown brat on 30 Rock, right down to the kooky hats. This bleeding heart vs hot mess Odd Couple dichotomy is brought to a boiling point when the women discover that their parents have sold their childhood home (or, as Fey puts it, “They fucking sold our fucking childhood fucking home”). After sorting through humongous piles of 80s memorabilia in their shared teen-years bedroom the pair decide to throw one last rager in order to recapture their youth (or in Fey-speak: to once again find themselves “balls deep in joy”) while they still have the opportunity. The party quickly gets out of control (duh) and brings to a head years of unresolved personal & familial issues (double duh).

Backing up Fey & Poehler’s effectiveness in their reversed-role casting is an untold wealth of comedic talent among the party-goers. The film is more or less a roll call of SNL performers & 30 Rock vets:  Maya Rudolph, Bobby Moynihan, Rachel Dratch, Kate McKinnon, Chris Parnell, John Lutz, and so on. And then there’s Leguizamo’s Michael Peña-esque sleazeball streak he began in American Ultra & of course, pro wrestler John Cena doing the same for the off-brand ribald comedy streak he began in Trainwreck. With so much talent in the room, it’s difficult to pinpoint a clear MVP for guest performer (Fey & Poehler are obviously the best overall), but let’s go ahead & call it a two-way tie between Cena & Moynihan. Cena’s tatted-up drug dealer, Pazuzu, is a hilarious detour from his typical persona, but the best part is that he’s even funnier than what’s promised in the film’s trailer. Pazuzu’s monologue about what drugs he has for sale ranks up there with Jason Statham’s self-aggrandizing rant in Spy as one of the funniest scenes of 2015. Seriously. Moynihan, on the other hand, is excellent in his ability to be the least funny guy in the room, especially once high-grade psychedelics enter the picture, convincing him that he is “Pablo Dickaso”.

Part of what allows this cast of comedic greats to shine is Fey & Poehler’s titular sisters egging their guests on to make sure that they’re having a teen party, not an adult one. Everyone makes a spectacular ass of themselves & everyone works through some deep-seated emotional issues in the process. Sisters is strong enough in its casting & in its emotional core to work without being flash in any particular way. When the film hits overly familiar story beats or employs absurdly generic comedy music cues, it’s all too easy to shrug its problems off as being a part of a well-established formula. What a matters is that Sisters uses its formula to deliver a solid line of maniacal humor. Hell, I’ll even admit that the film’s tidy rom-com ending choked me up a bit, despite doing nothing particularly worthy of a single-tear reaction. Genre formals are that powerful. They work.

-Brandon Ledet

12 Rounds (2009)

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three star

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Generic Action Movie #8 (I counted!) from WWE Studios was a (surprise!) John Cena vehicle meant to follow up his acting debut in The Marine. When considered outside of time & cultural context, 12 Rounds has very little going for it as a genre film. Its villain, played by (The Wire & Game of Thrones vet) Aidan Gillen, is mildly interesting in his playful scavenger hunt that he uses to keep Cena’s supercop off his trail, but the plot isn’t anything we haven’t seen done better in the past, particularly in Die Hard 3: Die Hard with a Vengeance. There are explosions (!!!) and helpless wives used as collatoral/potential victims (!!!), but nothing too exceptional to be found therein. No, what makes 12 Rounds distinct is the place & time of its setting.

Filmed in post-Katrina New Orleans on the back of those sweet, sweet Louisiana film tax credits, 12 Rounds is a potentially fun watch for locals looking to roll their eyes at an action movie determined to cram every possible New Orleanian cliché (short of maybe beignets & gumbo) into a single picture that honestly has nothing to do with the city outside of its setting. Our tour guide for this trip is NOPD officer John Cena (God, I love the way that sounds), who shows us through such great landmarks as “The Lake Pontchartrain Causeway”, Algiers Point, Decatur, a brief glimpse of The Saturn Bar, Bourbon Street (of course), etc. Sometimes the movie accidentally gets New Orleans right, especially while stumbling through the French Quarter’s drunks & street performers, but it’s most entertaining when it gets the city horribly wrong.

For instance, there’s a scene where Cena’s potential-victim wife boards the ferry at Algiers Point & he can’t reach her in time, so he steals a car, drives down the levy an somehow crosses the Crescent City Connection before the ferry reaches the other side. Incredible. There’s also some silliness involving using Katrina X-code markings (which are gravely serious business) as clues on the scavenger hunt that felt particularly tasteless. The most ludicrous detail of all, however, is an effort in which supercop Cena has to stop a runaway streetcar on Canal before it “smashes through” the end of the line. The strained effort to make the streetcar look fast & dangerous might be the height of the film’s New Orleanian silliness.

It’s difficult to tell if non-locals will find any enjoyment in this inaccurate foolishness, but there are a couple non-New Orleans moments of camp to be found here or there in 12 Rounds. The way Cena talks shit about punching Gillen’s mad terrorist in the face feels like a goofy extension of his pro wrestling promo work. There’s a scene in which he has to drive a bomb to the Mississippi River before it destroys “three city blocks”, but once he tosses it underwater, it barely makes a splash. In the grand finale, as Cena’s supercop & his wife are exiting a helicopter, she shouts “You land it, bitch” & the couple jump without parachutes into a rooftop pool as the sky rains money & fire around them. These moments may be mildly amusing, but they are by no means the height of action movie hijinks. Because of the exaggerated use of its setting, 12 Rounds‘ best chance for entertainment is in perplexing New Orleanian action movie fans looking for an incredulous chuckle or two as a uniformed John Cena takes them on an impossible city tour.

-Brandon Ledet

Trainwreck (2015)

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fourhalfstar

Trainwreck is a weird movie. Culturally, we are no longer standing on the threshold of a new era in which comedy, especially raunchy comedy, is the domain of men—but we haven’t finished crossing into that new world on the other side, either. It’s likely we’ve all heard the story about how Amy Poehler took a definitive stance against subliminal sexism in the SNL writers’ room stating that she was there to be funny, not cute; we all know how Bridesmaids was a huge hit that surprised our dudebro friends who thought that women couldn’t be funny or gross, and how that opened the door for fare like Trainwreck (I personally prefer the widely-reviled The Sweetest Thing for its uninhibited provocativeness, but that’s neither here nor there). Comedy Central, formerly the home of media catering exclusively to douches and douches in training, now features transgressive shows like Key & Peele, Another Period, and Broad City, helmed by and starring women and people of color in the timeslots that used to feature Adam Corolla and Jimmy Kimmel mocking little people and ogling women on trampolines. Sure, Daniel Tosh still finds his home there, but he’s old news now, and I’d be surprised if Tosh.0 exists beyond 2017. And, of course, that’s where Amy Schumer’s series airs.

Inside Amy Schumer, recently having completed its third season, is easily one of the most insightful and thoughtful shows on air. A sketch comedy show featuring interstitial footage from Schumer’s stand-up routines, the show has skewered toxic patriarchy and the roles women are forced to play in society, from a sketch in which various successful women in STEM fields participate in a panel in which none of them can stop apologizing, portraying the way women are trained to be “sorry” about everything, to the now viral sketch parodying Friday Night Lights to address the issue of sexual violence against young women, at once targeting both rape culture and the deification of high school athletics culture, and the intersectionality between these two social problems. My personal favorite is the sketch in which Amy’s character attempts to play the military first-person-shooter that her boyfriend is obsessed with; she selects to play as a woman, and said video game avatar is immediately the victim of sexual assault. When given the opportunity to report the assault, the game’s narrator attempts to talk her out of doing so, asking “Did you know he has a family?” The pixelated assailant is convicted at court martial, but his commanding officer disregards the ruling while Amy’s soldier character is relegated to a lifetime of paperwork in retribution. Amy complains to the boyfriend, who runs off to check the message boards; they say nothing about this situation, so he declares she must have played incorrectly somehow. The sketch takes aim at so many things at once, it’s almost hard to keep track: the pervasiveness of sexual assault against women in the American armed forces, the horrible manner in which these women have their careers destroyed for reporting their assaults, the insular toxic “just us boys” attitude that permeates video game culture (the fact that the assault is a de facto result of playing as a woman, coupled the fact that there is no discussion of this gameplay mechanic online, implies that Amy is the first person to actually choose to play as a woman), and the act of “mansplaining.” Given how much of Schumer’s body of work takes aim at the absurdity and darkness of phallocentric culture and mocking that culture’s paradigms, it’s a surprise that Trainwreck follows such a standard romcom formula, albeit one populated by more colorful characters than is the norm.

The film opens with a flashback to the young Amy and her sister, Kim, being given a lecture by their father (Colin Quinn) about how monogamy is an unrealistic expectation, complete with an analogy about only being allowed to play with one doll for the rest of one’s life, especially when you occasionally want to play with a stewardess doll or the best friend of your main doll. As an adult, Amy embraces this philosophy, engaging in a series of one-night sexual encounters with various men with the caveat that she never sleeps over and never becomes emotionally attached. She’s also sleeping consistently with Steve (John Cena), who is completely oblivious to the closet that he’s living in, although this “relationship,” such as it is, comes to an end fairly early in the film’s running time when he discovers that Amy is not sleeping with him exclusively. Amy works for men’s magazine S’Nuff, where her boss, Diana (a perfect-as-always Tilda Swinton), assigns her to work on a story about sports doctor Aaron Conners (Bill Hader), and implies that Amy is up for an editor position.

The film’s most emotionally and comedically satisfying scenes, however, center around Amy’s relationship with her family. Amy’s father has recently been admitted to assisted living due to deteriorating health. He’s a Mets-obsessed alcoholic with a heart of copper, and Amy has an amicable spiritual kinship with him, despite the fact that her sister resents him for his outdated bigotry and the way that his infidelity broke up their family when she and Amy were kids. Kim (Brie Larson, always a delightful screen presence) is now married to the incredibly dorky Tom (Mike Birbiglia) and has a young stepson (Evan Brinkman) whose fascination with esoteric miscellany Amy finds annoying. Both male characters are odd in a way that the audience can’t help but find endearing and charming despite the fact that Amy finds them, and the culturally normative lifestyle they represent in spite of their individual eccentricities, off-putting. Kim is genuinely happy with her family unit, soon to include a new baby; she also tries to convince Amy that she, too, will one day find fulfillment in embracing the narrative of domesticity. Amy’s having none of that… at first.

The plot outline of the romcom is nothing new, and there haven’t been many tweaks to the idea since the genre crystallized into a single formula as part of the Meg Ryan oeuvre. Woman is in an unfulfilling or boring relationship; this relationship ends, and Woman dedicates herself to the abstract art of self-understanding or focusing on her career; despite her protestations, Woman’s Friend or Friends manage to put her in a situation where she meets Love Interest; Woman falls for Love Interest, but forced drama and farcical misunderstandings push the two apart; finally, one party makes a grand sweeping gesture to demonstrate their love for the other party, they kiss, fin.

Since watching Trainwreck, a movie that I unabashedly enjoyed and found riotously funny, I’ve spent a great deal of time meditating on the ways that Schumer’s script managed to find something novel and original in that formula and exploring those nooks and crannies to mine for comedy gold—at least in the first hour. Like Greg Kinnear in You’ve Got Mail (and Bill Pullman in Sleepless in Seattle, Liev Schrieber in Kate & Leopold, etc.), Cena’s Steve is a disposable love interest. Unlike his genre forbears, however, he does fulfill Amy in the only way she cares about, and he extricates himself from her life not in order for a new love to bloom, but because he can’t feel secure in their relationship (and because he’s totally, totally gay). He also elaborates on Amy’s apparent flaws, and that’s where my confusion about the film’s thesis lies; Amy likes to drink and smoke pot and have noncommittal sex, and anyone familiar with Schumer’s comedy knows that she views these activities as lacking moral or ethical components. Who cares if someone’s taking puffs off of a one-hitter during a pretentious indie movie called The Dogwalker, as long as it’s not hurting anyone? Right? But her inability to communicate with Steve because she is stoned does hurt him. And, at the end of the movie, she gives her liquor and drug paraphernalia away in order to take the next step in her life and commit to her love for Aaron, implying that being a pothead really was a character flaw, and not just a characteristic.

I’m not really sure what to make of this. For the last hour of the film, I kept expecting some twist to occur that would further subvert the tropes of the genre the way that the first hour had–maybe Aaron and Amy don’t end up together, or some other variation from the romcom norm. Instead, after Amy meets Aaron and falls into a relationship with him in spite of her misgivings about a heteronormative monogamous lifestyle, the formula plays out fairly standardly. There is something new about the way that the friction between the breeding couple comes not from lies (Amy makes no apologies for or attempts to hide her party-hard lifestyle) or misunderstandings, but from slowly building unspoken resentment of Amy’s choices on Aaron’s part and Amy’s struggles with grief over her father’s death, but this alone isn’t enough to mitigate the predictability of that final scene where Woman and Love Interest declare their love for each other. There’s just something about it that doesn’t feel like it was created by the same Amy Schumer who spent an entire episode of her show appropriating the structure of 12 Angry Men to satirize the way American men are socialized to treat women as sex objects, regardless of the lack of an inherent connection between talent and conformity to a particular beauty ideal.

Don’t get me wrong: this is a funny movie, probably the funniest I’ve seen in theaters in years. The comedy is sometimes broad, sometimes particular, always insightful, and biting; the relationships between Amy and her father and Amy and Kim are emotionally resonant in ways that are superior to most dramas. I just can’t help feeling a little let down because the movie wasn’t as iconoclastic or transgressive as I wanted it to be. It’s not an “anti-romcom,” it’s a romcom that’s smarter, funnier, and more inventive than its predecessors–but it’s a romcom nonetheless. That’s not a negation of the film’s inventiveness, but it is an accurate assessment. Regardless, it’s a delightful movie, and not to be missed.

–Mark “Boomer” Redmond

From The PG Era to a Solid R: John Cena’s Promising Career in Raunchy Comedies

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There weren’t that many surprises for me in the new Amy Schumer-penned romcom Trainwreck. As was typical with almost all Judd Apatow comedies, the film was generally pleasant and supported a wealth of great gags & a wonderful cast, but also was in desperate need of some third-act editing. Recent over-exposure to Schumer’s more unrestrained writing on her sketch comedy TV show had me looking for something a little more (excuse the pun) off the rails from Trainwreck than the usual Apatow fare, though, so my expectations for something more unconventional were more than a little off base. I liked it; I just wasn’t caught unprepared for most of its content.

However, I was taken aback by the comedic performance of pro wrestler/in-the-flesh superhero John Cena. My surprise with Cena began before even the opening credits, when a trailer for an upcoming Amy Poehler/Tina Fey comedy called Sisters featured the typically clean-cut wrestler decorated in neck tats & a beanie, informing a hot-to-trot Fey that his safe word is “keep going”. That was just the start. In Trainwreck itself, Cena is even more subversive in dismantling his squeaky clean persona by appearing as he normally would in public, but with much raunchier content backing him up. It was difficult to determine from the film’s trailer how just how much of Cena we’d be seeing outside of that quotable “Mark Wahlberg” one-liner, but it turns out that we get to see way more of him than most people would’ve asked for. His character, Steven, engages (with varying degrees of success) in dirty talk, fully-nude on-screen lovemaking, undercutting questions about his own sexuality, and an intense pantomime of an ejaculation that will . . . not . . . end. As a fan of raunchy sex comedies, I found these gags just the right tone of playfully amusing. As a pro wrestling fan, I found them downright shocking.

For anyone who (understandably) has not been paying attention to the WWE since the creative heights of its so-called Attitude Era of the late 90s/early 00s, John Cena has more or less dominated the company’s narrative for the past decade. Shifting away from some of the more gruesomely violent & overtly sexual content of yesteryear, WWE sorta-unofficially promoted Cena as the face of the company. With his classic military looks & his character’s (almost) forgotten beginnings as a white rapper, Cena has been scripted within the ring to be more or less a superhero for young children to look up to. His stubborn refusal to “turn heel”, constant sloganizing about never giving up & always being respectful, and his never-ending championship victories appeal directly to younger fans, which drives a lot of older, nerdier smarks to disgust, deeming his reign as The PG Era. This behavior has spilled outside the ring as well. In his WWE Studios movies, Cena has always played the unblemished hero, like in his action movie vehicle The Marine, or a superhero version of himself, like in the Scooby-Doo/WWE crossover where he defeats a robotic ghost bear & an Indiana Jones style bolder with his bare hands. Then, there’s the fact that he in “real life” has more Make-a-Wish Foundation charity work than any other celebrity on record. In short, he is a ludicrously wholesome persona inside the ring & out.

The thing about Cena is that he really is likeable. There’s just way too much content out there about him being likeable. If you religiously follow WWE’s two flagship shows, Raw & SmackDown, (God help you) then there’s six hours of content on a weekly basis about how likeable John Cena is. And that’s not even counting the monthly Pay-Per-Views or the reality shows. That’s gotta wear even the most enthusiastic viewers down after a few years. Fortunately, though, things seem to be (gradually) changing. Cena’s niche at the company has been looking more like a respectable midcard position for the past few months (although, as I’m typing this now it looks like they’re pushing another championship match for him at this year’s SummerSlam) and he’s been putting in some of the best in-ring work of his career & helping get over lesser-known talents through his recent John Cena’s U.S. Open Challenge angle. What’s even more remarkable, though, is how he’s subverting his spotless image through comedies like Sisters & Trainwreck.

I first noticed this shift during the last few episodes of the now-legendary NBC comedy Parks & Recreation, where Cena appeared as himself on the episode “The Johnny Karate Super Awesome Musical Explosion Show” (one of my favorite episodes of the series). Cena did little to taint his superhero image in that appearance, but there was a spark of hope there in his willingness to make a fool of himself, when he so often manages to land on top. It also helped that Parks boasted a deep roster of talented comedians that could land Cena bit parts in worthwhile bigscreen comedies through networking. It’s tough to say whether it was Poehler’s Parks connection that helped Cena land his part in Sisters or the odd fact that Amy Schumer once dated pro wrestler Dolph Ziggler that helped him land his persona-shedding role in Trainwreck, but it couldn’t have hurt in either situation. No matter what the cause, Cena now seems to have his foot in the door for a life on the bigscreen (as opposed to WWE Studios’ straight-to-VOD dreck) and his career could be at a pivotal point because of it.

It’s a very rare feat for the WWE to successfully launch a career in Hollywood. Hulk Hogan is certainly the earliest example, but even he had a tough time making a lasting go of it after his ridiculous start in titles like No Holds Barred & Rocky III. Outside of a couple 90s goof-offs like Suburban Commando & Mr. Nanny, he hasn’t made much of a memorable mark outside the ring. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, on the other hand, has been a much clearer success story with his roles in franchises like The Fast & The Furious and G.I. Joe. Even The Rock’s been struggling to branch out & express himself as an artist, though. Despite a few wildly off-the-wall turns in films like Southland Tales and Pain & Gain, he’s been landing a lot of roles he would have been typecast in over a decade ago. Schlock like Hercules & San Andreas aren’t nearly enough of a step-up from his days as The Scorpion King, considering the talents he’s put on film in his his stranger roles.

Both The Rock & Hulk Hogan have long struggled to expand the scope of their acting careers once they got their foot in the door and now it’s John Cena’s turn to fight that battle. Starting his career in major films by degrading himself in raunchy comedies is honestly a brilliant first step in that direction. Cena’s showing us that his spotless superhero persona does not necessarily define him as a talent. Let’s face it; a lot of the kids who would’ve latched onto the original version of his current “Hustle, Loyalty, Respect” routine in its initial run would be in at least their late teens now, so it makes total sense that his content would grow up with them. I could be wrong & Cena could be slipping back into his old ways (starting as soon as SummerSlam next month), but there’s at the very least a glimmer of hope for change in his roles in Sisters & Trainwreck.

I’ve recently grown to like Cena despite my initial misgivings. His repetitive nature really isn’t all that unique within the world of pro wrestling, after all, and he can be really entertaining when he puts in his best work. Besides, it’s really difficult to deny the power of those Make-a-Wish numbers. I’d just also like to see him continue to branch out into these filthy, degenerate characters in goofy comedies until it’s no longer jarring to the audience. It might be his best chance at establishing himself outside of his roles as a “sports entertainer” and an eternal “good guy”. As Hogan & The Rock have proved time & time again, the WWE ring will always be there with open arms for whenever he needs it. There’s no reason, then, not to go out there & make himself vulnerable in a gross-out comedy or two. Judging by his work in Trainwreck alone, he’s already off to a great start.

-Brandon Ledet