‘Triumph’ Review: Going to the Mat

“Triumph” tells the story of Mike (RJ Mitte), a high school senior in the 1980s who aspires to join the wrestling team. Because he has cerebral palsy, even adults who admire his resolve — like Coach Warren (Terrence Howard), who teaches Mike in a phys-ed class, and Mike’s single father (Johnathon Schaech) — don’t initially believe he can do it. Directed by Brett Leonard, the film was inspired by the experiences of its screenwriter, Michael D. Coffey.

The relentlessness with which Mike is underestimated (just from looking at him, a literature teacher tells him to sign up for special education instead of regular classes) gives “Triumph” a distinctive angle. But it’s still pretty hokey as a movie. Mike is bullied by another wrestler (Eric Pasto-Crosby), and he develops a crush on a popular girl (Grace Victoria Cox). Mike befriends a jock (Colton Haynes) who becomes his ally in the weight room, and who ultimately needs lifting up himself.

These clichés may have a basis in fact. There’s less excuse for some of the dialogue. “Right now, his biggest obstacle is himself,” Coach Warren tells Mike’s dad, who has visited him to tell him that his son should stay focused on his classes and not “this wrestling thing.” “I just don’t want him to get hurt again,” the father adds. (In a prologue, we’ve seen a 9-year-old Mike break his collarbone in a youth wrestling competition.)

Mitte, who played the son in “Breaking Bad” and himself has cerebral palsy, sells Mike’s tenacity, but the contrivances around him let him down.

Rated PG-13. Wrestling violence. Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes. In theaters. Please consult the guidelines outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before watching movies inside theaters.

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