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The Life Aquatic becomes more dear and more impressive the more you learn about it —Marty Mapes (DVD review...)

Murray lives the Life Aquatic

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Fighting with My Family is a heartwarming tale of piledrivers and half nelsons.

Smack Down Live

Zak and Saraya, family fighters
Zak and Saraya, family fighters

This is easily one of Dwayne Johnson’s best movies. It’s right up there with Jumanji in terms of heart and entertainment value. And Johnson is perfect for his role; he’s been hand-picked (no doubt after an intense international talent search) to play… Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

Yeah. Fighting with My Family is based on a true story (and it’s a Hollywood take on the documentary The Wrestlers: Fighting with My Family). Ultimately, it’s the origin story for the very real WWE star Paige. And, in that context, Johnson naturally fits in as himself — in a decidedly small, but effective, part as a wrestling super star and role model to Saraya Knight (Florence Pugh, The Commuter) and Zak Knight (Jack Lowden, Mary Queen of Scots).

They’re siblings growing up in the rough-and-tumble land of Norwich, England. Their parents figure heavily — pun intended — in the World Association of Wrestling, a mere blip (if that) on the radar in comparison to the World Wrestling Federation (rebranded as WWE, but that’s another story for another time). Dad (Nick Frost, Tomb Raider) has a checkered past involving some sort of moment of violence. Mom (Lena Headey, 300) is not even close to being a wall flower.

They’re a tough family. But they’re also a tightly-knit clan that includes another sibling spending time in the slammer. Through it all, the parental units have big dreams for their kids — to break out of Norwich and make it big in world wrestling. It’s kind of like The Commitments for the chokeslam set, with Dwayne Johnson stepping into the Wilson Pickett role.

Welcome to the Suck

Rather than merely being a self-serving publicity vehicle along the lines of the ghastly NFL/Kevin Costner fumble Draft Day, Fighting with My Family transcends its WWE roots (the movie was co-produced by WWE Studios) and offers some genuine inspiration for a wide-range of audiences.

One of the movie’s best moments is when Johnson explains his Rock persona to Saraya and Zak. The Rock is nothing more than Dwayne Johnson with the bass adjusted and the volume turned up (let’s say it… turned up to “11”). Rather than trying to be the next Rock, Johnson encourages the kids to be “the first you.”

One of the many charms of Fighting with My Family (written and directed by Stephen Merchant, a co-creator of the original British version of The Office) is its ability to laugh with and at itself. Later on, Saraya puts the smack down on Johnson’s recommendation, calling it out as nothing more than a tweet.

The reality is life in the WWE can be a punishing experience, demoralizing in terms of self-confidence and physical abilities. Sure, WWE is an amped-up soap opera in spandex, but it’s also a physically-demanding and dangerous line of work.

Something Extra

Fighting with My Family fits in nicely with other true-life movies centered around sports or games. There’s Queen of Katwe (a terrific movie that’s so overlooked it’s borderline criminal), 42, Rush, Moneyball, The Fighter. Among this set, Fighting is one of the more family-friendly tales — a semi-remarkable accomplishment in its own right, given the roughneck backstory and the squared-circle antics.

What makes Fighting work so well is the cast. They all deliver. Johnson. Headey and Frost. Vince Vaughn (Dodgeball) as Hutch, a talent scout with his own turbulent wrestling background.

But credit needs to be given to Florence Pugh for rising up and carrying the bulk of the movie as she credibly transforms from a neighborhood punk chick into a star in waiting. Gonna Fly Now doesn’t fit into this grounded take on sports grit and determination — grounded while also surrounded by the bells and whistles of NXT, Wrestlemania and Smack Down Live.

As Hutch repeatedly tells the recruits, he’s looking for something extra. There are tons of people out there who think they can star in the WWE. They can see themselves as a 6-inch action figure.

That’s all fine and swell. Even Saraya’s own brother, Zak, thinks he deserves to be a WWE star — and that storyline offers a little extra heft to the material as one sibling rises while the other falters (even as he does — truly — a whole world of good in his Norwich environs, including training a blind student to wrestle).

But in the WWE — as in virtually every other profession — getting ahead of the pack involves more than self-perception. It takes that “something extra.”