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Walk Like A Panther (2018)
Director: Dan Cadan
Screenwriter: Dan Cadan
Starring: Stephen Graham, Dave Johns, Michael Socha, Jason Flemyng, Julian Sands, Jill Halfpenny, Robbie Gee, Stephen Tompkinson, Sue Johnston, Christopher Fairbank, Adam Fogerty, Steve Furst
Dan Cadan’s long-gestated pro wrestling tribute movie Walk Like A Panther is barely the film its all-star British cast deserved, owing much of its lacklustre presentation to a poorly written screenplay filled with the sort of jokes that make you cringe more than they make you laugh and moment after moment of forced emotion that the film’s other biggest shortcoming, the use of music, drives home in the least subtle manner you can possibly imagine. The editing doesn’t leave much to be desired either, with the film feeling disjointed in such a way that could not be interpreted as mimicking the concept of a brutal wrestling match (see The Wrestler), but instead seemed the unfortunate result of a lack of footage and/or talent in the editing room, often working against the desired look and feel of the film and completely disrupting the picture’s pace.
Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of Walk Like A Panther was the structure, which seemed to offer little to no pay-off to most of its story arcs, or simply paid them off in the wrong way. Any wrestling fan would tell you that the movie was setting up Michael Socha’s Ricky Rickson to be the film’s central wrestling show’s lead villain, and that a match between Hannah Walters’ Gloria Giles and Jill Halfpenny’s Laura “Liplock” Anderson was a must. So, having them simply fail to become involved to the extent that had been hinted at in the early parts of the film was at once disappointing and simply not in-keeping with the idea of wrestling or, indeed, the ongoing narrative of the film.
Further to this point, screenwriter-director Cadan didn’t seem to know whether it was more fitting to choose to present professional wrestling as a real sport or fixed entertainment attraction, an issue that resulted in a flip-flopping between the two ideals. On one hand, Cadan needed wrestling to be a real sport to justify the story arc of central protagonist Mark Bolton (Stephen Graham), who needed to win his wrestling match to prove his worth to his wrestling legend father, while on the other hand there were scenes in which wrestlers acknowledged one another’s good choreography, with the film even showing some of the the planning to the matches themselves. It seemed clear that the wrestling either had to be real or fake, and at no point was it clear which side of the coin Walk Like A Panther was landing on.
There is, however, something about this movie that was simply uplifting. Perhaps it was the story’s tale of Yorkshire towns folk coming together to oust the horrors of corporate Britain, or maybe it was the film’s clear respect and admiration for British wrestling’s hay day? The cast certainly supported this feeling, with Jason Flemyng’s limited performance adding a richness to the film and Stephen Graham being typically excellent in the lead role. Somewhat generously, the film also included moments through which each of the supporting characters could shine, allowing for the cast to truly establish their own way of presenting each wrestler in the ring and outside of it.
Walk Like A Panther was, then, just okay. The film’s screenplay, editing and use of music may have left a lot to be desired, and the picture could certainly have done with a larger involvement from the burgeoning British wrestling scene as regards structure and the matches themselves, but the reality is that in coming out of Walk Like A Panther it was tough to feel any less happy than I did going in, a feeling wrestling fans and non-wrestling fans alike would probably share. So if this makes for your type of film, I’d recommend filling a weekday evening with Walk Like A Panther. Just don’t go expecting anything more than a daft and often forced, low-level British comedy.