‘The Reunion’ Review: Not Quite Coming Together

Posted in Screening Room by - April 22, 2016

Going in to this month, I didn’t have my hopes set very high. Films starring and made by wrestlers don’t tend to come with the highest pedigree, with the few rare exceptions. I knew there might be a few diamonds in the rough, but otherwise it would be a month of cut and dry “This is gimmicky and doesn’t work. Skip, skip, skip.”

What I did not expect was a film that actually forced me to mull over my impression of it.

The movie in question is 2011’s The Reunion, starring John Cena, Ethan Embry, and Boyd Holbrook as the Carey brothers – three estranged men brought together by the death of their father. Their sister, Nina (Amy Smart), tells them all that the only way for them to get their split of the $12 million inheritance is for them all to work together on a job. Leo (Embry) mentions that one of his parolees has recently dodged bail and is now trying to ransom a prominent businessman. His older brother, Sam (Cena), currently a disgraced cop, reluctantly agrees, and the three set out to Mexico, driving them deep into further mystery and violence.

If that plot sounds stupid and contrived, that’s because it is. It doesn’t hold up in the slightest. You can tell from the very beginning that the idea for Cena’s character came first, they had some set pieces in mind, and build everything else around it to serve that end. Things happen, new characters are introduced, and twists are revealed, but virtually every story beat only happens “because plot.” That’s not even to say this is one of those “Bit off more than you could chew” stories – the story is just helplessly overburdened and ridiculously dumb, while still being blindingly obvious in why it’s acting that way.

But, strangely, that doesn’t make The Reunion irredeemable. As much as the plot is garbage and the side-characters are forgettable, the main trio of brothers is actually quite engaging. Each one has a distinct personality that makes them stand out from the others, but you can still see that there are enough threads from their one uniting parent that makes them fun to watch together. Cena, Embry, and Holbrook all have natural chemistry together, and perform their roles beautifully. They might be a bit stock in their basic descriptions, sure, but they run with it and really make you buy in to the people they are and the reasons they’re in on the job. I loved every minute they played off of each other once the ball really started rolling, right down to the admittedly stupid “Which member of Bonanza are you?” argument. It’s really too bad, then, that there’s no basis for any of them. Each brother gets a single tiny scene to try and give us their brief backstory, and that doesn’t amount to anything. I don’t buy in to why they’re doing any of this for a second, so I couldn’t give myself a reason to care for any of them or their cause, despite their pure on-screen charm.

The Reunion is a strange film. It tries to tell a story about a broken family coming together through the guise of a poorly-scripted action-thriller. It could replace most of its cast with cardboard cutouts and Movie Tropes titles, but it’s also got an unbelievably charming central cast. I wouldn’t say that the film, itself, is trying very hard, but these few stronger elements hint at the possibility of a really great movie just waiting to be discovered under the surface. Too bad no one got back together for another round of edits on the script for this one, because I really can’t recommend the full runtime for the few worthwhile moments.

Final Verdict: Skip It

This post was written by
He is a Nebraska native and UNL Honors alum with an ever-relevant degree in English. When he isn’t working his day job or writing for Kulture Shocked, Ben spends his time as an independent game designer, seeking to publish his first board game. You can also find him modeling for art classes around Lincoln or online as Dlark17 on most major gaming platforms.
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