2020 Milwaukee Film Festival: “THE LEGEND OF BARON TO’A”
“Wallace Beery. Wrestling picture. What do you need, a roadmap?”
THE LEGEND OF BARON TO’A fits comfortably within genre confines. Specifically, the genre is the martial arts action film, albeit in this case the martial art featured is wrestling. And, THE LEGEND OF BARON TO’A is like a comforting warm blanket as it takes a trip through familiar tropes with charm and enthusiasm.
THE LEGEND OF BARON TO’A has a familiar scenario. Fritz (Uli Latukefu) returns to his old family home, on a cul de sac that’s become disreputable, to sell the old home and move on as an entrepreneur. Fritz has been eager to move on since his father, a legendary wrestler who went by the name of Baron To’a, died much too young. Baron To’a (John Tui) was a hero to the New Zealand community and inspired some sense of order. But, when Baron To’a’s championship belt is stolen, it’s up to Fritz to step into his father’s shoes, reestablish order, and win back the belt.
Yes, you don’t need a roadmap to understand the beats of the film. It could be a western, a martial arts film, or any number of action films with just a few tweaks. But, it embraces being a wrestling movie, with all of the storylines and surprises of a wrestling arc.
What sets it apart from a lot of exercises in style is that the film is obviously invested with a lot of heart. Yes, it is a slight action movie, but it’s an action movie that likes its characters. Uli Latukefu demonstrates a lot of charisma and it’s easy to understand where he’s coming from. Heck, I could see him teaming with Dwayne Johnson in a buddy picture some day. Even when he’s reluctant to step in, it’s not necessarily because he’s uncaring, but because he doesn’t the situation and would like to resolve his issues without resorting to violence. He has an easy charisma that goes a ways. And, obviously, everyone involved is having a blast with the wrestling tropes and just in making an action scene. There’s a chase across fences and hedges that recalls Edgar Wright’s HOT FUZZ without copying Edgar Wright’s gags.
THE LEGEND OF BARON TO’A sags a little in the middle and the climactic matches could be better. But, it’s a solid genre exercise all the same and a solid crowd-pleaser. Alas, the virtual setting robs the film of some of the fun to be had with a rowdy crowd cheering on our wrestling hero, but it’s still a fun watch at home.
THE LEGEND OF BARON TO’A is streaming throughout the 2020 Milwaukee Film Festival which runs from October 15 to 29, 2020. Tickets to individual films and passes to the festival as a whole can be purchased via Milwaukee Film.