‘Inside Out’ – Review

"Inside Out is hardly Oscar material, but it's more thoughtful than you'd expect."

William Bibbianiby William Bibbiani

I suppose it's because professional wrestlers are often such gifted physical performers and performance artists that they inevitably drift toward feature film acting. Yes, I do consider pro wrestling to be a form of performance art. And while I haven't followed pro wrestling since Jake “The Snake” Roberts wrestled Andre the Giant back in, oh, 1988 (an event which I attended in person at age 9), I still see similar dynamics in place with this current generation of wrestlers: There are good guys and bad guys, several warring factions, a lot of vitriol-laced speeches given by either side, and carefully constructed in-ring personae that allow the fans to follow a grand opera of brave rises and tragic falls.

The wrestler Triple H (nee Paul Levesque) has spent his wrestling career vacillating between “Good” and “Evil” sides, and, indeed, switching in-ring identities with an alarming frequency. He was once known as Terror Rising, Terra Ryzing, Jean-Paul Lévesque, The Cerebral Assassin, The Game, Hunter Hearst Helmsley, and his current moniker of Triple H. He has had several accents, origins, and personalities. He is now the lead actor in a WWE-sponsored feature film called Inside Out, opening in limited release this Friday, and directed by veteran TV director Artie Madelberg of Beverly Hills 90210 and Saving Grace fame.

From what I understand, the WWE film company allows wrestlers the limited capacity to choose an identity for their respective vanity projects. This is a disturbing thought when pondering Kane's role of an eyeball-collecting serial killer in the dreadful 2006 film See No Evil. Triple H fares better in Inside Out, wherein he plays an ex-con, convicted for manslaughter 13 years ago (he wasn't even really responsible), and trying to make his way in the world again. I suppose if you're 6'3”, weigh 255 lbs., have a long blonde ponytail, and you're built like an inverted pyramid, the sympathetic ex-con is one of a few roles you can play. It's either that or a bodyguard.

Triple H plays a character named Arlo Jayne, or AJ, who is reunited with his childhood friend Jack (Michael Rappaport) after his stint in prison. Jack is a low-rent criminal nogoodnik who has lucked into a pretty wife named Claire (Parker Posey, adding some much needed quirk to an otherwise somber film), and a lovely teenage daughter whom he is sending to private school. AJ was once in love with Claire, and everyone knows this, and the film is skilful in the way it handles the casual awkwardness of this arrangement. AJ, even though he looks like a wrestler, wants to go straight, and has dreams of starting his own pickling business. You read that correctly. There is a lot of talk in the film about making pickles, and the proper pickle etiquette. It talks about how one can make pickles in a prison, where resources are limited, and there are a few bizarre shots of people ramming picked into their faces. I wonder if the pickle thing was conceived by Triple H, or was just a small, off-the-wall detail of the screenplay.

Anyway, Jack is beholden to the interests of his elderly veterinarian father (Bruce Dern. Really. Bruce Dern), who has a minor criminal operation underway to smuggle cigarettes into Louisiana, and not pay taxes on them. I liked that the criminals' scheme was not to do anything morally reprehensible, but merely illegal. It adds a nice Chinatown-ish slant to the film. Jack, being the screw-up that he is, blows a simple errand that his father gave him (resulting in a death), which puts him on the run from not only the bad guys, but the stalwart ATF agent Martha (Julie White). It's up to Triple H to clean up Jack's mess and come to terms with their rickety friendship, and his simmering feelings for Claire.

The film does have a few fight scenes (a film to feature a wrestler, I suppose, must), and there are a few explosions, but I was struck at how downbeat the entire affair was. This was not an edge-of-your-seat kind of action spectacular, but a borderline contemplative crime drama. Triple H is not a kick-ass-and-take-names kind of hero, but a put-upon blue collar schlub with a reluctant skill in criminal circles, and dreams of pickle factories. He's not a brain. He's not a badass. He's just a hardworkin' everyman. A gigantic cipher for the bulked-up blue-collar ex-con in all of us.

The film was made surprisingly well, having a definite sense of pace and honest-to-goodness Louisiana atmosphere. The photography was crisp and good-looking, and, even when events began to tip irresistibly toward PG-13 violence, there was just a high enough level of panache to keep the viewer involved. Keep an eye on newcomer Jency Griffin as the unlikely thug, and you'll see what I mean.

The WWE film studio may have an instant reputation as the purveyors of pandering wrestling schlock, allowing non-actors free reign to take part in whatever callow action flicks that their wrestlers may imagine, but with this film, and the lauded-in-the-pages-of-Crave That's What I Am from earlier in the year, the studio may just be proving to be a quietly earnest, low-budget champion. Inside Out is hardly Oscar material, but it's more thoughtful than you'd expect.