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Wrestling stars will pile-drive the multiplex (but in family comedies?)

June 15, 2010 | 12:24 pm

Mixed martial arts star Rampage Jackson drew mixed reviews as B.A. Baracus, but World Wrestling Entertainment is hoping the fighters who occupy their own ring can carry some new films -- or at least play key character parts.

The Vince McMahon-run enterprise is pressing forward with its attempt to make modestly budgeted films that feature (but don't necessarily give lead roles to) the wrestlers whose careers they've helped cultivate.

The latest bit of development news comes with a new movie from WWE star Edge. The fighter-performer will star in "Chasing the Hawk," an action comedy about a New Orleans lawyer who loses a classic car he holds dear and then sets out to find it.

Principals at WWE Studios, the organization's film-production arm, say they hope to make more than just action films. One previously announced development project: "Inside Out," which stars Triple H, but in more of a crime drama, with the unlikely cast of Michael Rapaport, Parker Posey and Bruce Dern around him. The wrestler formerly known as Paul Levesque also will star in an family comedy called "The Chaperone," about an ex-con who tries to take his teenage daughter on a class trip but finds the past catching up with him, "Kindergarten Cop"-style.

There's precedent for wrestlers spring-boarding to acting careers, most notably with Dwayne Johnson, who of course began his career in the ring as the Rock before breaking through as a star in his own right.

For the last few years, John Cena had been the biggest hope for WWE. The star of "The Marine" (which grossed a not terrible $19 million at the domestic box office) stars in this fall's high-school wrestling movie "Legendary," as well as a new, untitled project the company is aiming for spring 2012.  Also up this fall for the WWE personalities is  "Knucklehead," starring wrestler the Big Show and centering on a get-rich quick scheme.

The easy knock on wrestler-centric films is that most fans tune in to see them only in WWE plots and subplots -- they want to see them in character, not playing someone else -- which limits box-office potential.

But WWE officials say that their wrestlers are born performers and that with lower budgets -- the goal is films at the $5 million to $10 million end of the spectrum -- they can manage their costs. (They also say they can shave marketing expenses by cross-promoting to the wrestling fans on their cable programs, saving money for the studios that distribute the independently made films.) WWE officials also say they're conscious that not every wrestler can carry a film, which is why you might see them only in a handful of scenes.

Professional fighters who've tried but failed to transition to acting are as prevalent as broken chairs at a Wrestlemania ring; the Stanislavski Method is probably not their forte. Still, they couldn't do much worse than Rampage.

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: A scene from WWE's "Summer Slam Axxess" at Staples Center last year. Credit: Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times

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