A few days after the WWE scaled back its matches, instituted coronavirus protocols and began staging events without an audience, the company’s studio arm has stepped into the breach, along with Netflix, to release “The Main Event,” in which an 11-year-old boy with a magic mask spends lots of time inside the ring in front of those screaming fans that have disappeared in real life.
(And as a bonus, the climactic match takes place in a steel cage, the hallmark of the now-shuttered UFC.)
It’s unlikely, though, that too many WWE fanatics are going to embrace “The Main Event” in place of a full-fledged Raw or Smackdown or Wrestlemania event, despite the presence of a bevy of the organization’s stars, including Sheamus, The Miz and Kofi Kingston. This is a kids’ movie, a WWE spin on “Air Bud” or “Angels in the Outfield” or “Space Jam” rather than a slightly more grown-up film along the lines of the last one from WWE Studios, the wholly satisfying “Fighting With My Family.”
Directed by TV veteran Jay Karas and definitely not to be confused with the 1979 Barbra Streisand/Ryan O’Neal boxing rom-com of the same name, “The Main Event” is fitfully amusing, and doggedly heartwarming, albeit in ways you can see coming a mile off.
Seth Carr, as likeable as you’d want him to be, plays Leo, an 11-year-old who’s bullied at school and harbors secret dreams of joining his heroes in the WWE. While trying to escape the bullies, he ducks into a realtor’s open house and hides in a room where he finds a box that contains a wrestler’s mask. When he gets past the smell of decades-old sweat and puts it on, the mask not only makes him tougher and sassier, it changes his voice and gives him the kind of super strength and agility that comes in very handy against bullies, and also in the wrestling ring, assuming anybody would ever let a kid his age into one of those.
Of course they do let him in the ring, because – conveniently – the WWE is holding tryouts in Leo’s hometown, with a contract and a $50,000 prize going to the winner. Exactly why they’re holding a tryout in which the winning wrestler gets to participate in pro matches that are scripted ahead of time is never explained, but maybe the target audience doesn’t know that last part yet.
The tryout organizers won’t let Leo participate until he comes up with a wrestling name, so he chooses “Kid Chaos” – the rest of the vetting process is conveniently overlooked, so the kid begins to wreak chaos on a whole bunch of guys who are a whole lot bigger than he is.
It’s silly to gripe that the WWE would never let this happen, because, after all, this is a movie about a magic mask that gives you superpowers. Only it’s not really about the mask and the superpowers, right? We’re in heartwarming kids-movie territory here, so it’s pretty much a given that Leo is going to eventually learn that true strength lies within, or with great power comes great responsibility, or to thine own self be true, or other lessons like that.
The actors include Adam Pally as Leo’s single dad, Tichina Arnold as the grandmother who’s helping out after Leo’s mom bailed on the family and Babatunda Aiyegbushi as the hulking, monosyllabic behemoth who is Leo’s biggest challenge in the ring. They all keep the story moving, more or less, and “The Main Event” is an easy enough ride for kids who are stuck at home and like to see people bash each other.
Will parents want to stick it out, too? That’s a tougher question for a movie about magic that doesn’t really have too much magic of its own.