When you think of movies and pro wrestling what comes to mind? Dwayne Johnson? The endless flow of generic action films from WWE Studios? Maybe an old Hulk Hogan film like No Holds Barred? Well, we have a new contender here, hailing from New Zealand it’s The Legend of Baron To’a. Can director Kiel McNaughton (End of Daze) and writer John Argall (Netherwood) go the distance? Or are they just another couple of jabronis?
Fritz (Uli Latukefu, Alien: Covenant, Black Site) returns from Australia to his old home in a Tongan neighbourhood of Auckland New Zealand. Not for any sentimental reasons but to get his Uncle Otto (Nathaniel Lees, The Dead Lands, 30 Days of Night) to move out of the family home so he can sell it to finance his latest startup. His uncle doesn’t want to move, and within hours of arriving Fritz has had a run-in with some local street punks, beaten up Wayne (Xavier Horan, Ghost in the Shell) a corrupt cop and pissed off his uncle’s neighbour Renee (Shavaughn Ruakere).
Back when he was growing up his father, legendary pro wrestler Baron To’a (John Tui, Battleship, Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw) would have handled this. He wasn’t just a badass in the ring, he was his neighbourhood’s protector as well. Fritz, on the other hand, just wants to get back to his office and close the deal. But when a local gang, The Pig Hunters, break into the house and steal his father’s championship belt, he has to make some hard decisions.
The film’s fight scenes are, of course, packed full of pro wrestling moves. Suplexes, body slams, and lots of foreign objects. I was worried this would look silly. But it’s played straight for the most part. And everyone uses them, it actually works quite well. It also helps that The Legend of Baron To’a is set in New Zealand so it doesn’t seem so odd that nobody pulls a gun.
Right from the start, you can see that Uli Latukefu is the perfect choice for the role of Fritz. He’s got the build, look and charisma for the role. He’s got enough of the look that he’s since been cast as a young Dwayne Johnson in an upcoming NBC TV show.
He’s matched with a script that feels like a wrestling storyline. The good guys and bad guys are clearly defined, give or take the expected unexpected heel turn. And there’s a couple of characters such as Royden (Duane Evans Jr.) who will have to choose sides. And there’s plenty of back and forth before Fritz realizes he needs to understand his father’s legacy if he wants to take the belt from the gang’s mountain of a leader Tahu (Ray Liufau).
And it’s his reclaiming his heritage that McNaughton and Argall use to hook into Joseph Campbell’s concept of the hero’s journey. Fritz journies back to his former home and must choose between his family legacy and making his fortune. Then they add a large dose of Rocky, complete with a training montage and plenty of well-done action.
If this sounds like a lot of fun, it is. With its street gangs and corrupt cop, The Legend of Baron To’a could as easily have been done as a fairly grim and bloody revenge piece. Instead, it manages to be full of heart and a positive vibe. Even during the middle section when Fritz is busy getting his ass kicked. It’s not a sappy film, give or take Fritz’s meeting his father’s spirit, it’s just wonderfully upbeat. I foresee a bright future for those involved with this film.
Gravitas Ventures will release The Legend of Baron To’a on December 4th theatrically and on digital and VOD platforms. You can check the film’s Facebook page for more details.