MOVIE REVIEW- Rourke's comeback: <i>Wrestler </i>is fallen actor's best

a still from this week's filmEverybody loves a comeback, and The Wrestler gives you two for the price of one. Three, if you throw in director Darren Aronofsky (Pi, Requiem for a Dream), who needed one after The Fountain.

First there's the plot, about Randy "The Ram" Robinson preparing for a 20th anniversary rematch of the biggest bout from the height of his career, against "The Ayatollah," who now runs a used car lot in Arizona. Randy's been doing part-time work but still wrestles for his few remaining fans in his small New Jersey hometown, where the kids love him but his trailer park landlord won't give him credit.

Then there's the comeback of Mickey Rourke, who plays "The Ram" into a certain Oscar nomination (although I rate him a close second to Sean Penn for the win). He's been edging back into Hollywood, most notably in Sin City, after a virtual absence of a decade and a half that included a brief boxing career. While he may self-destruct again, he's riding high for the moment on this career-best work.

Is Rourke playing himself? Probably, at least in part. Does it matter? Hell, no. They say that's the hardest thing for an actor to do, that most feel more comfortable playing characters far removed from themselves. Robert D. Siegel's screenplay takes a sadistic pleasure in emphasizing the similarities between the star and his character.

Randy doesn't have much of a life apart from wrestling. His only "friend" is a stripper, Cassidy (Marisa Tomei, terrific), whose "dances" he can afford when he can't pay the rent. His attempts to connect on a personal level are rebuffed because she has a rule against mixing business and pleasure: she won't date the customers.

Cassidy is tempted to break her rule for Randy. She's past her sell-by date, and young men's love of cougars doesn't extend to strippers, but she's not ready to admit that Randy's her best option, even when they bond over a shared love of ‘80s rock (they deserve each other!).

When he plays the lonely card, Cassidy encourages him to look up his estranged daughter, Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood). He finds her living with another young woman and assumes she's a lesbian, which doesn't bother him. Apologizing for abandoning her, he pleads, "I'm an old, broken-down piece of meat, and I'm alone. I deserve to be alone. I just don't want you to hate me."

Much of the early part of The Wrestler is taken up with two highly energetic matches between Randy and opponents who collaborate with him on their scenarios in advance. Non-followers of the "sport" (about as sporting as Sarah Palin hunting wolves from a helicopter) may be shocked at how wild and brutal it appears.

After the second match Randy suffers a heart attack, which requires a bypass. His doctor tells him he must stop taking steroids and that returning to the ring would be a bad idea. Randy tries to retire but when he blows his chances with Cassidy and Stephanie, he realizes there's no life for him outside the ring, even if it kills him.

The plot is very simple, The Wrestler being mostly a character study. It's the kind of role an actor can't live without, even if it kills him.

Randy has a signature move, the "Ram Jam," where he climbs to the top rope and leaps on his fallen opponent. Rourke doesn't have anything so simple to fall back on, unless it's the truth. He just inhabits the character and lets the camera suck the truth out of him. However he does it, it works, with the wrestling stunts adding extra force to his tour de force.#