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WWE Superstar John Cena returns to the big screen in “The Reunion”

The last time John Cena was in a feature film, it was in the family-friendly, sports-themed drama LEGENDARY. This time, he ventures closer to the action/comedy genre with THE REUNION, co-starring Ethan Embry and Amy Smart. I gave his last flick a mediocre Geek Factor Rating, so does THE REUNION fare any better?

THE STORY: The Cleary brothers, Sam (JOHN CENA), Leo (ETHAN EMBRY) and Douglas (BOYD HOLBROOK) take dysfunctional families to a new level: Sam and Leo have grown up hating each other and neither likes their juvenile kid brother, Douglas, to whom they’ve only recently been introduced. The three boys share the same father, but all have different mothers.  Their father died a rich man and when they’re brought together by their sister Nina (AMY SMART) to learn which one of them will inherit the old man’s fortune, they are handed an unpleasant surprise.  A requirement of the will is that the three estranged siblings go into business together as bail bondsmen.  Their first job takes them into the mountains of Mexico where they encounter a drug lord and uncover a kidnapping plot, masterminded by an embittered entrepreneur (MICHAEL RISPOLI) that will endanger them all.

THE GOOD: Before I receive a deluge of e-mails from John Cena fans saying that I have it in for Cena in any role, let me say that I had high hopes for this film. This film is ambitious in trying to break away from cliched characters and scenarios. And Cena gets to play in a bit of comedy with his co-stars Embry and Holbrook, at times switching from brooding hulk to rapscallion.

THE BAD: But for all its ambition, the film never really gets us to care about any of the characters. The closest we come to caring is for Douglas who has spent time in prison for theft, but appears to be a kind soul otherwise. A scene where he befriends an abused horse did a bit to create some empathy for him, but the other brothers never won me over. Also, the villains of the movie are hardly developed at all. Their motivations are never clear and when their ‘plan’ is finally underway, you wonder why they had to go to such elaborate lengths to pull off what appears to be a simple cyber-heist. And for an action film, there really wasn’t a whole lot of action, save for the climax which – quite frankly – made the heroes look pretty dumb.

THE UGH: Tonally, the film is all over the map. At times it’s a comedy, at times a deeply cynical and dark action drama. A violent death is followed a couple scenes later by some comic banter, but it does nothing to ameliorate the sense of oppression that the shocking act creates. On top of all that, parents will be hestitant to bring young children to see this film as the language gets a bit salty at times. Which means there goes Cena’s fan base as far as this movie goes.

THE VERDICT: When the movie ends, I had the sense that it was more series pilot than feature film. The brothers go from bickering siblings with deep-seated resentments, to cheerful compatriots who are ready to form an A-Team style private investigations firm.  Sorry, but I didn’t buy it. I’ve yet to see Cena in a film that truly plays to his strengths. THE REUNION is a character piece trying to be an action film, with the problem being that neither the characters or the action are very convincing. I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but I think that WWE Films needs to call on director Brett Ratner to give Cena the RUSH HOUR treatment.

I give THE REUNION a GEEK FACTOR RATING of 1 headbutt (out of 4).

Starring:  John Cena, Ethan Embry, Michael Rispoli, Boyd Holbrook and Amy Smart
Written, Produced and Directed by:
Mike Pavone
Running Time: 95 Minutes 57 Seconds

Showing in limited release at the Chatham 14 Cinema in Chicago