That's What I Am
Directed by Michael Pavone
With That's What I Am, WWE Studios shifts away from the big, dumb actioners that they've been cranking out at an alarming rate since 2002 in favor of a similarly moronic period-piece tolerance tale, which ends up resembling an indie flick chewed up and spit out by the Hallmark Channel.
Andy (Chase Ellison), our absurdly white-bread hero, is a typical 12-year-old; reasonably polite, fairly studious, and not particularly adept to resisting peer pressure. When his English teacher Mr. Simon (Ed Harris) pairs him with the giant-like (by elementary school standards) "Big G"—G for "ginger"—Andy is apprehensive but soon realizes that, , believe it or not, Big G's actually not a horrible person. Bigger problems arise later in the form of the school's bullies and their parents, who accuse Mr. Simon of being a "homo" (their word).
The wrestler-as-actor gimmick is fortunately minimal here, with Randy Orton appearing about halfway into the film as one of Andy's classmate's homophobic fathers, keeping the expected grunting and groaning to a minimum. Unfortunately, with this comes a scourge of inexperienced child actors who, like their more successful Disney Channel counterparts, wildly gesticulate and overact their way through each exchange, giving the most mundane dialogue an oddly angry and frantic tone.
That's What I Am is at its most perplexing, however, when slapping its audience over the head with its "why can't we all just get along" message, which is fairly often. For a movie set in the 1960s, its perceptions of what constitutes prejudice and intolerance are oddly skewed. Director Michael Pavone depicts no shortage of schoolyard scuffles; kids get picked on for everything from being tall to eating lunch in the wrong corner of the playground, and homophobia is rampant. The Civil Rights Movement, however, is completely ignored, and the white and black students interact seamlessly, with no visible conflict. However, given that Pavone's vision of the 60s is slapping a few vintage cars and some decade-appropriate outfits on the students and faculty of an otherwise modern-looking public school, this shouldn't come as a surprise.
Opens April 29