09th Mar2018

‘Walk Like a Panther’ Review

by Matthew Turner

Stars: Stephen Graham, Dave Johns, Steve Furst, Michael Socha, Stephen Tompkinson, Julian Sands, Jill Halfpenny, Lindsey Coulson, Robbie Gee, Jason Flemyng | Written and Directed by Dan Cadan


An evident labour of love for first-time writer-director Dan Cadan, this cheerful British comedy attempts to fuse a nostalgic love of Saturday teatime TV wrestling with a band-of-plucky-underdogs plot that’s straight out of The Full Monty. The result leaves a lot to be desired, but there’s no denying that the film’s heart is in the right place.

The film begins with a wistful flashback to the 1980s, when the nation was glued to British wrestling on ITV’s World of Sport, every Saturday tea-time and young Mark Bolton (Stephen Graham) grew up idolising his wrestler father, Trevor “Bulldog” Bolton (I, Daniel Blake’s Dave Johns) and his wrestling troupe, The Panthers. Cut to the present day, where Mark still harbours dreams of following in his father’s footsteps, but now runs The Half Nelson, the village pub frequented by Trevor and his former wrestling buddies.

When dastardly developer Paul Peterson (Stephen Tompkinson) announces plans to knock down the pub, Mark hits upon the idea of persuading the retired wrestlers to get back into the ring for a fund-raiser. At the same time, Mark hopes to get closer to his father by finally following in his footsteps and busting some wrestling moves of his own.

Walk Like a Panther‘s biggest problem is the tone, which eschews the grounded familiarity of The Full Monty in favour of over-the-top cartoonish caricature. It’s intended to reflect the colourful, larger-than-life personalities of the wrestlers, but it backfires considerably and results in terrible mugging from all concerned. In addition, the script is all over the place, careening from cliché to cliché with little regard for character consistency or a sense of structure. To make matters worse, there’s a painful lack of decent jokes and the attempts at humour constantly feel forced, to the point where it becomes painful to watch.

To be fair, there’s a certain amount of energy in the performances and Cadan has assembled a likeable cast full of familiar TV faces – there are at least two former EastEnders, for example, as well as an extended cameo from Game of Thrones’ Lena Headey. However, there are so many characters that they all end up being under-served by the script, so much so that, when captions pop up at the end to tell you what happened to each of the characters, you’ll either struggle to remember their names or you’ll have long since ceased to care.

On a similar note, the surfeit of characters means that none of the emotional subplots are given sufficient room to breathe, resulting in a choppy mish-mash of sentimentality that fails to ring true. The film also has severe pacing issues (one montage sequence in particular seems to drag on for weeks) and out-stays its running time by a good twenty minutes or so.

Ultimately, Cadan over-stretches himself by trying to do too many things at once and it’s hard not to conclude that the film might have been better served if it was simply a stripped-down story about getting the old team back together for one last knockabout.

* 1/5

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