Movie Review: “Rumble”

Although the assumption was not always correct, once upon a time it was easily believed that if a movie was switched from a theatrical release to VOD, or never given a theatrical date in the first place, it was going to be disappointing on a quality level. Now, between a global pandemic and an insatiable need to feed streaming outlets, things have gotten more murky.

Originally slated for a theatrical release and with the date pushed several times (some of these, at minimum, due to COVID), Paramount Animation’s “Rumble” eventually opted to forego a theatrical release and is now hitting the Paramount+ streaming service this week instead. Although not a stunning film by any stretch of the imagination, it is not a bad one either. Instead, this Hamish Grieve directed effort falls into the wide range of works that are “fine.”

It isn’t always brilliantly executed, but the basic notion behind the movie is rather fun – what if professional wrestling was real and monsters were real and monsters wrestled professionally. Inspired by a graphic novel, “Monster on the Hill” by Rob Harrell, which, from what this critic can tell, seems to not take place in this century (or the previous one) and to not feature professional wrestling, the basic storyline outside the above facts won’t surprise anyone. However, the enthusiasm with which parts of it are told makes it worthwhile.

“Rumble” features the voice of Will Arnett as our lead monster, Steve, and Geraldine Viswanathan as Steve’s trainer, Winnie. For his part, when we meet him, Steve is trying to desperately avoid his tragically deceased father’s shadow by denying his lineage. Rayburn, Steve’s father, was the greatest monster wrestler of all time. Steve is a wrestler who purposefully loses and seems to prefers dancing to anything else. Winnie is trying to save her city, Stoker, from the doldrums in which it finds itself following both the death of Rayburn; the death of her own father (who was the monster’s trainer) in the same accident; and the recent betrayal of the city’s new monster, Tentacular (Terry Crews), who is abandoning the place just as it’s getting back on its feet.

So, it’s “Rocky” (complete with a snippet of “Eye of the Tiger”) and monsters and wrestling and cameo voices wrapped around the loosest of plots. As we have noted elsewhere, underdog stories tend to find soft spots in our hearts and that’s exactly what happens here. There is, however, some disappointment at the fact that Grieve seems largely content to not explore any true nuances that could invigorate or expand such a tale. The underdog plot is paint by numbers.

The movie is at its best not when it plays into the well worn aspects, but when it offers up details about how a world with monsters wrestling changes the one in which we live and throws nods towards the unique nature of the relationships between monsters and humans. We get a wrestling announcer duo of a human (Stephen A. Smith) and a monster (Jimmy Tatro) with the poor human more than once getting banged around by the monster’s exuberance. The monster trainers have aerial vehicles that they have to go around in during the matches to talk to their wrestlers. Monster-sized cue-tips are seen in the background and a massive ice pack is on a wheeled cart. There is a sort of glee with which these elements are just placed there and not spoken about, and that comes through loud and clear.

This sense of grandiosity about the monsters is wonderful, but it is also rather inconsistent. There are too many moments in the film, particularly during the matches, when the creatures lack heft. Whether the source of the issue is in the sound design or the visuals or a combination thereof, all too often there are moments when the monsters pounding on things (like one another) doesn’t have any weight to it.

Also at odds with the nature of the story and the monsters themselves is the all-too-muted color palette the film regularly displays. There are some moments of vivid brightness, but the images regularly seem akin to any number of live action films that offer up bland colors when what is taking place screams for something more lively.

Yet, for all its faults, for all the things the movie doesn’t do right, the amusing and endearing aspects remain front and center. The manner in which it plays out may be de rigueur, but we still find ourselves cheering for Steve and Winnie as they try to save the city and beat Tentacular (even if Tentacular is clearly the best character the movie has to offer).

Ending where we began, “Rumble” should not be viewed as a movie that has wound up on a streaming service rather than with a theatrical release due to its quality. It isn’t going to set the world ablaze as the notion of actual monster wrestling might, but it makes for an enjoyable 90+ minute bit of amusement.

photo credit: Paramount+

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