| April 20, 2011

Simply put, there is only one name in the history of professional wrestling that matters: Stone Cold Steve Austin. Many great wrestlers have come and gone, but none can boast a legacy that even compares to, much less exceeds, the one created by The Texas Rattlesnake. For fans like myself, fans who grew up during the Attitude Era (a.k.a. the Austin era) of professional wrestling, the fact that Stone Cold is in the upcoming Phase 4 Films release Knockout is all that matters.
Knockout does not lack antecedents. Viewers will immediately think of Rocky, The Karate Kid, and the recent cycle of Mixed Martial Arts films, included in which are films like Never Back Down and Fighting. Hardcore martial arts movie fans, however, will know that there is only one film with which to compare Knockout, and that film is the 1993 Billy Blanks (of Tae Bo fame) vehicle entitled Showdown. They are literally the same film, with a former-champion-turned-janitor taking the bullied new kid under his wing and training him to take on the school bully/local fighting champion. The only notable difference is that, since Knockout is a family movie wherein Stone Cold is merely the mentor character, there isn’t the scene where the aged former champ gets back in the ring for a showdown with an old rival. Austin does have to deal with a familiar face from his days as a rising star boxer, but unfortunately, there are no middle fingers, stunners, or knockouts administered.
The IMDb reviewer of Showdown makes note of the familiarity of the narrative formula but rightly asserts that there is no need for alterations since the formula always works. Not every film in this group is at the same level as Rocky, but there is a baseline level of enjoyment that comes from the way the underdog story is practically encoded in our DNA. We always respond to the David versus Goliath story, and bringing in Stone Cold to play David’s mentor just makes it that much easier to respond. Taking up the Billy Blanks role, Austin plays faded boxing star Dan Barnes. After a serious out-of-the-ring injury, Barnes was forced to hang up his gloves and turn to the new responsibilities of raising a family. Taking work as a janitor as a way to earn a living, Barnes never drifted too far away from the ring, and when he runs into the new kid at school, Matthew Miller (Daniel Magder), and discovers the kid’s interest in boxing, he encourages him to try out for the school’s boxing team. Of course, Hector Torres (Jaren Brandt Bartlett), the kid that’s been bullying Matthew since his first day at school, just so happens to be the best young boxer in the city, and if Matthew has any hope of success, he’ll have to go through Hector.
I’ll admit, I was pleasantly surprised by Daniel Magder (who brought a lot of heart to his role, though it would’ve been nice if the ratio between heart and actual boxing ability wasn’t so lopsided) but even so, this film belongs to Stone Cold. Known as the quintessential “foul-mouthed, beer-swilling, finger-gesturing” anti-hero of professional wrestling, I was eager to see what he would be like in a film where, because of its PG-rating and family-friendly construction, he literally couldn’t incorporate his Stone Cold persona, and I’m pleased to report that he pulled it off. Because of the strength of the Stone Cold iconography, it’s impossible to completely divorce Dan Barnes from the fictional/real-life Steve Austin, but the master stroke was the way there was just enough Stone Cold—the hard-nosed, never say die tough guy for whom quitting isn’t even an option—to be homologized with the warm-hearted, nice guy character of Dan Barnes.
If you’re looking for a feel-good family movie, this is a great pick. It has all of the elements in place, hits all the right notes at all the right moments, and most importantly, offers Stone Cold Steve Austin the chance to take on a new challenge. Despite returning to the squared circle, Austin was facing the unknown in a lot of ways here, working in a family-oriented film and spending almost the entire film one-on-one with a young kid. Credit to him, he did his job admirably, and even though he wasn’t the Rattlesnake with whom wrestling fans are so well-accustomed, fans who know the inspirational story of Austin’s road to becoming the biggest wrestling superstar that’s ever lived will appreciate his role and the film that much more.
And that’s the bottom line.

About the Author:

Kyle Barrowman is a graduate of the Cinema Studies program at Columbia College in Chicago. In addition to his work for Film Monthly, he has previously published essays for Cashiers du Cinemart, Offscreen, and The International Journal of Žižek Studies, on subjects ranging from film noir to Alfred Hitchcock, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Bruce Lee.
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