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Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Fighting With My Family

“Happy Death Day 2U” and “Cold Pursuit” are also new to Blu-Ray this week.

Most parents would break up a fight between two siblings. Ricky and Julia Knight (Nick Frost and Lena Headey) are not most parents. He’s an ex-con and she once tried to commit suicide. They met each other at their lowest points and fell in love. Their common bond was wrestling, particularly WWE. So when their young children Zak (Thomas Whilley) and Saraya (Tori Ellen Ross)--whom Ricky and Julia imbued with a love of wrestling--have a row over the television remote in the opening scene of “Fighting with My Family,” it makes sense that it would be used as a teachable moment.

We quickly move forward a decade. Zak is now played by Jack Lowden and sister Saraya is played by Florence Pugh. Dad Ricky runs a local wrestling show in Norwich, England, and in an equal parts funny and painful scene asks wrestler Union Jack (Elroy Powell)--think Britain’s version of Haystacks Calhoun—if he’s willing to be hit with various objects in various body parts.

This is a reality of wrestling that “Fighting with My Family” sets up right off the bat, and is reiterated at various points throughout the movie, which is that while wrestling may be staged and a show, it is not fake. Punches may be pulled and there may be some choreography, but there is no way to fake getting body slammed on your bare back into a pile of thumb tacks. That really hurts and causes real injuries, not to mention the need for a tetanus booster.

Zak and Saraya are invited to try out for NXT, a sort of farm team for the WWE based out of Orlando, Florida. Not many who try out are chosen, so it’s a small pond, and the big fish that runs it is a man named Hutch, played by Vince Vaughn. While I’m sure all of the verbal thrashings are true to the real-life equivalent to Hutch (the movie is based on a true story), I doubt that the real life man is as quick and clever as Vince Vaughn. No one rattles off the rips and one-liners like Vaughn. He’s a seasoned enough actor who in the past has taken on roles in which he doesn’t get to dish out the rapid paced smack talk, so he doesn’t do it because he has to. He does it because he wants to. I’m glad he does since “Fighting with My Family,” directed by “The Office” writer and co-creator Stephen Merchant, lends itself to laughter whenever possible and Vaughn is great about keeping the energy up.

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“Fighting with My Family” is not all laughs though, as Zak is devastated when Saraya is chosen and he is not. Going to the WWE was just as much his dream as it was Saraya’s, and though he acts cool about it at first, his emotional devastation increasingly comes to the forefront as he stews in jealousy and resentment. This creates tension between the siblings and leads Zak down a dark path that eerily resembles that of his older brother Roy (James Burrows), whom we don’t see until toward the end of the movie when he gets out of prison. Lowden and Pugh are talented actors, and the charged feelings between the two siblings is palpable. These two know how to go after each other verbally as well as physically, offering another layer of complexity to their relationship.

There are other aspects of “Fighting with My Family” that are less thrilling, like the stand-offish relationship Saraya initially has with her fellow female wrestlers. Lessons are learned to not judge a book by its cover, and while it is satisfying to see how Saraya and the other women bond over learning from each other, it happens by rote in the story and isn’t all that suspenseful dramatically. Much more interesting is Zak’s story back in Norwich in which he drives a van around and picks up a group of kids to teach them how to wrestle. After rocking out to some Iron Maiden or Motorhead, they get into the ring and work out their aggressions. Zak keeps one kid off of the streets dealing drugs and teaches a blind kid how to wrestle. According to the end credits, this blind kid went on to become a wrestler. If WWE Studios chooses to continue down its path of making movies other than the ones where John Cena and Steve Austin beat up bad guys and blow stuff up, I’d be interested in this story too. As for Saraya’s story in ”Fighting with My Family,” it’s a promising start of what could be for WWE Studios. Rent it.

Also New This Week

“Happy Death Day 2U” can join in the same company as “Ouija 2” in that it is a horror movie sequel that is better than the original. I know that’s not saying much, since 2017’s “Happy Death Day” was abysmal, by the numbers trash (as was “Ouija” for that matter), but “Happy Death Day 2U,” released in theatres February of this year and out on Blu-Ray this week, is an improvement on the original. Not only does the movie stay interesting with similar subject matter that isn’t too redundant by playing variations on its themes, it is also wickedly, unexpectedly funny. Talk about subverting expectations the right way.

Jessica Rothe is back and Tree Gelbman, and yes, she is stuck repeating the same day over and over again. This time we find out why, and it has something to do with some big quantum time gizmo graduate student Ryan (Phi Vu) is working on for his thesis. We also find out that not only can the gizmo loop time, it can also transport people inter-dimensionally. This leads to Tree finding herself in an alternate reality where her boyfriend (Israel Broussard) is dating someone else, her super bitchy sorority sister Danielle (Rachel Matthews) is now thoughtful, caring, and altruistic, her conniving ex-roommate Lori (Ruby Modine) genuinely wishes her a happy birthday, and most importantly, her mother (Missy Yager) is still alive.

This is mind-blowing for Tree, and for us, and while the alternate reality aspect of the movie offers a good way to do things over, there is still some retconning that it can’t explain. “Happy Death Day 2U” falls into the classic sequel trap of being a bit too clever for its own good, taking the “logic” of the first movie and tossing it aside, causing the “reality” of the world of the two movies to make even less sense.

But in exchange, we get a much more balanced and nuanced story with “Happy Death Day 2U.” The movie delivers the goods in the same PG-13 slasher movie way as the first movie, but this time Rothe gets to show off her acting chops not only as a dramatic actress but also as a comedian. I can only imagine the pure joy writer-director Christopher Landon had in thinking of fun and ridiculous ways for Tree to die over and over again in a mid-movie montage. There’s a level of unhindered joy and go for the gusto brazenness that makes “Happy Death Day 2U” work so well. While I don’t care one way or the other if another “Ouija” movie is made, I do want to see where the “Happy Death Day” series heads next, particularly after the big promises made at the end. Rent it.

Cold Pursuit

If a movie review starts off with a sentence like, “The cinematography is nice,” then you know the crucial elements of the movie that should be focused on, like story, plot, dialogue, character, and action, are crap. So now let me begin my review of “Cold Pursuit”:

The cinematography is nice. The gorgeous, snow-covered Colorado landscapes are beautiful both day and night as we watch rugged snow plow driver Nels Coxman (Liam Neeson) clear the roads and exact revenge on the criminals who killed his son Kyle (Micheál Richardson).

If the story focused on Coxman’s revenge story and the complications in his marriage to wife Grace (Laura Dern), this might have been a decent movie. It’s not. Dern’s character is an afterthought, to put it generously, who leaves the movie before the first act is even over. Coxman’s brutality in hunting down those responsible for his son’s death is played with ferocity by Neeson, but even he can’t rescue the lame-brained stupidity of this movie and the boring way in which each guy he beats up so easily gives him the name of the next guy to beat up. After about 40 minutes, Neeson has no more guys to beat up, so he goes to his ex-criminal brother, played by William Forsythe, to give him the names of more guys to track down and beat up. Though to call his character a brother is also generous. He’s less of a brother and more of a plot device to get Coxman on the path to a drug lord called Viking (Tom Bateman).

The movie might have self-corrected and been somewhat decent (this is a big “might have”) if it continued on with Coxman’s story and didn’t get bogged down in subplots involving Viking’s son, Viking’s goons, a hitman, a competing Native American tribe, and some cops who are supposedly on the case. Neeson disappears from the movie for large chunks as these other plots carry on, some resolving more quickly than others. Some not at all. The beginning of the film shows us a scene with a distraught woman in a robe and socks walking in the snow. Coxman runs to help her. Who she is, why she is there, and what she means to the story is never explained and is left completely unresolved. By the end of this convoluted, poorly structured, horribly plotted movie, with a stupid, nonsensical closing scene, I didn’t really care what was resolved and what wasn’t—I just wanted it to be over. Skip it.

More New Releases: “Apollo 11,” documentary about the moon landing, which celebrates its fiftieth anniversary on July 20 of this year; and “House of Games,” riveting 1987 movie from writer-director David Mamet about a psychiatrist who gets drawn into the world of grifters, gamblers, and con men, starring Joe Mantegna, Lindsay Crouse, and J.T. Walsh.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

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