The Main Event (2020) is WWE and Netflix’s attempt to recreate the magic found in movies like Rookie of the Year (1993) and Like Mike (2002). All three films feature a kid who is a big fan of a sport, but finds themselves not quite good enough for one reason or another…and, through some form of magic (two literal magical artifacts, essentially), they suddenly find themselves to be so good that they can play on even ground with their heroes. It’s a formula that feels very familiar, though apparently not overdone – and while there are some definitely enjoyable moments in The Main Event, it mostly feels like the made for a TV version of the other two films.
In this film, Leo (Jay Karas) is a mega-fan of the WWE – especially Kofi Kingston and the New Day. His grandmother (Tichina Arnold) supports this and is quite the fan herself, but his dad (Adam Pally) seems too preoccupied with finding himself as he has recently been made a single parent. Leo gets picked on by some kids who are planning on trying out for the wrestling team at school, and they chase him into a museum where he finds a stinky luchador mask. It turns out that mask belonged to some of the greatest wrestlers and was believed to be magic – and, once he dons it, he’s able to compete for an NXT contract.
Arnold is the clear highlight of the film. She seems to be having a blast, and her comedic presence is definitely needed. Pally is usually going to be the comedic highlight if he’s in a movie, but he is relegated to being a sad-sack here and doesn’t really get enough to do. Fortunately, Arnold is up for the task to be the “cool grandma”, who is really into how hot she finds the WWE superstars.
The kids in the film do solid work, and that’s always the crapshoot and what often makes the best kid-centric films last the test of time. Karas is likable, and his friends played by Aryan Simhadri, Momona Tamada, and Glen Gordon – plus the bullies, led by Josh Zaharia – are all doing exactly what is asked of them. Unfortunately, much of what is asked of them are generic jokes and cliche moments that simply remind the viewer there are much better versions of this film out there. There is nothing ambitious or original about this screenplay at all – and, while one could attribute that to Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat formula – this movie breaks one of the most important rules Snyder offers for the “Out of the Bottle” archetype: Double Mumbo Jumbo.
For those not versed in the STC archetypes, Snyder basically says all stories can be placed into one or more of 10 story types. Out of the Bottle is where this film squarely falls, but one warning Snyder issues is when asking your audience to accept magic – in this case, a mask that makes a middle school kid kick giant adults around with ease – that you can’t suddenly ask them to believe different magic to also be true. Ignoring this rule, one of the wrestlers unveils that he has the ability to fart at superhuman levels, in one of the weakest attempts at humor in the movie. It’s a bad scene on the surface but reveals neglect for its own formulaic style. Maybe the writers were attempting to break the rules to introduce a sense of originality, but instead just encouraged some severe eye-rolling.
Still, there is enough here that young fans of the WWE may find a kinship with Leo, and the dream opportunity to become a WWE superstar right now and potentially save your house. It’s the type of film that kids could certainly latch on to and is now available to stream on Netflix. The Main Event earns the Not a Total Waste of Time rating.