Paul Wight, known in pro wrestling circles as “The Big Show,” stars as Walter Krunk, an affable lunk of a giant who grew up in an orphanage and never left (presumably because no one wanted a gigantic clumsy ox living in their house). The head nun (Wendie Malick, never more unlikable) considers him, at best, a burden.
When Walter accidentally burns down the orphanage’s kitchen, the government gives them 10 days to get it back up to code. But wait! The orphanage doesn’t have the funds.
Enter local downtrodden fight promoter Eddie Sullivan (Mark Feuerstein of TV’s “Royal Pains”). You can probably guess he’s in deep with a local knee-breaker (Dennis Farina), and is in need of a miracle in the form of an unstoppable fighting machine whom he can ride into a hefty payday.
From there the movie turns into a road picture/”Karate Kid” knockoff as Walter, physically gifted but lacking any fight skills, learns to survive the world of underground MMA.
Here’s a little exercise for you: off the top of your head, throw out a list of, say, 10 movie cliches. I mean the worst of the worst. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
Done yet? Now tell me if any of these are on your list: save the orphanage, the con man who convinced to go straight by a beautiful woman, an ex-stripper hoping to redeem herself, the big lunk with a heart of gold, the slimy, irredeemable con man, the hardscrabble father figure, a fighter shamed by throwing a big fight, the big showdown between rivals in the finals of a competition. All of these are part of “Knucklehead.”
There are inexplicably a series of pretty good actors in this film: Malick, Saul Rubinek, Melora Hardin (“The Office”), Will Patton, and Farina among them. I suppose all of them are collecting paychecks, but really, there are better ways.
Wight isn’t much of an actor, but he has a certain…shall we say awkward charm. This film was written as a vehicle for him, and with that sort of cast around him it would be easy to overlook his shortcomings if there was any kind of attempt to produce a decent script.
Instead we get his head crashes through just about everything, not to mention copious amounts of gastrointestinal distress for no good reason. The comedy is mostly physical, but only in the sense that it’s people’s bodies colliding with things.
There is a sequence where Wight wrestles a bear whose execution would embarrass any legitimate filmmaker. It’s painfully obvious Wight is actually struggling with a man in a bear suit.
But this film is geared to an extent toward children, or at least a preteen sensibility, so perhaps that’s their niche. In that endeavor I wish them luck, but there’s a bit too much ex-stripper kinds of themes for me to comfortably call this a true kids film.
“Knucklehead” was never going to be a great film or even perhaps a good one, but it certainly could have been better than the mess it was.