Wrestling has seen something of a surge in mainstream interest over the past few years. The excellent Netflix series GLOW has garnered a massive fan base as well as critical adoration. Starz is currently developing a wrestling drama series titled Heels. What separates R. Zachary Shildwachter and B.J. Colangelo’s POWERBOMB, however, is in its unique, micro-budget approach to the material.

Pro-wrestler Matt Cross plays a fictional version of himself – an independent wrestler who’s on the cusp of breaking into the big leagues. Despite pressure from his friends and manager, Matt has no interest in superstardom. He’s tied down with a wife and child and insists that the superstars lack the freedom that small-town wrestlers have.

When wrestling superfan Paul learns this news about Matt, he goes so far as to kidnap him after a wrestling match. Paul exclaims to Matt that he’s the only one who truly cares about him and doesn’t want to see Matt throw away a promising career as a pro wrestler. Paul chains up Matt in his basement, where the two discuss their life stories, personal shortcomings, and of course, wrestling.

Paul is played by Wes Allen in a performance that channels Patton Oswalt in Big Fan. Almost his entire character can be chiseled down to the fact that he’s a lifelong fan of the sport. During one of his many impassioned speeches, he tells Matt, “It’s the type of theater the ancient Greeks wished they’d invented.” His presence is easily a highlight of POWERBOMB, as Wes Allen brings a tremendous energy to the film.

Beyond the film’s two lead actors, we’re presented with a look at the lives of Matt’s family and friends. His wife, Amy, played by Roni Jonah, raises their son Cash with the help of a babysitter named Kelsi. Amy and Kelsi were former wrestlers – the former quit to start a family and the latter was forced to retire after an injury. Despite both working in the same field, these two characters are opposites when it comes to their views on wrestling and how it has impacted their lives. Cash aspires to follow in his father’s footsteps but is bullied by his peers at school.

Meanwhile, Matt’s manager, Solomon, is simply trying to keep his business in check after Matt’s sudden disappearance, leading to tensions between him and Matt’s family.

For a film about a sport as spectacular as wrestling, POWERBOMB is a surprisingly talkative affair. Thankfully, the film’s sound writing does a nice job at carrying the eighty-minute runtime. The segments involving Paul and Matt are particularly strong and play out as a compelling chamber piece within the context of the film. It’s a testament to how strong these segments are, in fact, that the detours outside of Paul’s house, unfortunately, don’t feel as developed. At worst, they feel like filler and made me think that perhaps this would’ve been a particularly succinct short film.

Beyond the film’s structure, there are a few technical blemishes, likely a result of POWERBOMB‘s budget. The sound design can be spotty at times and the climactic sequence at the end felt as though it was cut a bit hastily. Yet, these imperfections lend a certain charm to the experience. Much like the small-town wrestling the movie portrays, there’s a lot to admire here despite some understandable missteps.

What POWERBOMB lacks in polish, it makes up for in passion. This is a movie that understands and portrays wrestling’s unique breed of fans better than just about any other medium. It’s a love letter to the athletic spectacle and soapy appeal of a sport that is woefully misunderstood. It’s just like Paul says: “Wrestling isn’t fake. It’s predetermined.”

Oh, and there’s a scene where a hand puppet gets beaten up, so how bad can it really be? POWERBOMB is now available on DVD and VOD.

Tom Milligan
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