Mostly, I’m amazed that movies like Bending the Rules are still made. That its cop is so obviously shady and its lawyer is so annoying and its end boss so predictable—even if the movie tries to surprise you by proffering almost zero clues—is a marvel of cinematic ignorance. Sure, buddy cop movies are still made and renegade cops continue to be a favorite protagonist of the Hollywood machine, but rarely are the nuts and bolts of the genre so evident. That our corrupt police officers are routinely Bostonian with an unbreakable code of honor merely shows the progression we’ve made from the time when our hero was distinguishable from all the other men and women in blue by his wacky floral shirt and the way he waggled his eyebrows at the end of every sentence. It’s so bad that, at one point, the lawyer tells the cop—who is eating a doughnut, of course—that he’s a walking cliche.
That’s not to say that Adam “Edge” Copeland—playing detective Nick Blades, a character so out of time that his name’s been retrofitted as well—doesn’t do an effective job in his first leading role. Matter of fact, he does rather well. The problem with Bending the Rules is that it is thin gruel at best. Lawyer wants to put away corrupt cop. Corrupt cop saves annoying lawyer from his own stupid mistakes. The two team up to solve a case that further threatens the lawyer’s life. In the end, it turns out that the corrupt cop isn’t such a bad guy and that the annoying lawyer can, in fact, bend the rules a little bit to allow an otherwise good man to walk for his crimes.
The lawyer, Theo Gold (Jamie Kennedy), is having a spectacularly bad day while all of this happens, if that’s worth anything. He’s the assistant district attorney and, as luck would have it, the D.A. is retiring. Sadly for him, the case against Nick Blades goes awry, the judges don’t like him, the cops don’t like him, and somebody else is getting the job. Then his wife pulls up in the family’s Studebaker Golden Hawk and tells him that she’s filing for divorce. On his way home, he is pulled over for a phantom speeding infraction and tazed, a video of which soon goes viral at the precinct. On top of it all, the Hawk goes missing, and the only cop willing to help him is the one he’s trying to put away in jail.
All of this ties in with a larger criminal conspiracy wherein a man on death row—a man whom Theo convinced—is putting out hits on his old enemies before he is put down. The movie is largely concerned with cracking this case, though Theo is, as you’d suspect, more worried about the car. It’s a fair enough thing to be concerned about, too, the whereabouts of a beautiful car being much more important than the health and well-being of some smarmy jerk lawyer.
It’s not that surprising that Bending the Rules hardly has enough muscle to move its skeleton frame. WWE Films practically specialize in re-purposing old plots and film-making fads into lackluster vehicles for their stars—John Cena has been the brand’s go-to for movies styled after Die Hard; Kane, of course, was the star of an outdated slasher film; and Randy Orton was the bully in a weepy afterschool special—and Edge suffers the misfortune of being thrust into a role made popular and defined by guys like Mel Gibson and Eddie Murphy. Were Bending the Rules allowed to push WWE Films‘ strict PG boundaries, were it able to identify what made movies like Beverly Hills Cop and Lethal Weapon successful, i’ts not much of a stretch to see Edge working as a surrogate for those previously successful characters. A sidekick in the vein of Danny Glover and/or Nick Nolte would have been preferable, too, as well as a script that wasn’t still fascinated by cops and their doughnuts.
I’m fully aware that something like a good version of Bending the Rules would depend entirely upon WWE Films getting serious about producing movies that rely less on the presence of a given WWE Superstar, and that’s simply never going to happen. The studio’s m.o. is simple and, in a way, admirable. They aim to produce cheap films starring wrestlers that the average wrestling fan knows and may enjoy seeing outside of the ring. They’re designed to make a few bucks, but nothing so crazy that the star entertains the notion of leaving the company to test the waters of Hollywood, as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson did. They’re not interested in seeing Edge in a buddy cop movie like last year’s The Guard because even a retired wrestler like Edge making successful (or unsuccessful) movies takes the focus away from the ring. Are there many WWE superstars with the crossover potential of Dwayne Johnson? Admittedly, no. But Bending the Rules and other middling movies in the WWE Films milieu take a better safe than sorry approach. Give a guy like Edge a movie? Sure. Let him do something beyond his already established wrestling persona? Not on your life.
Bending the Rules. Directed by Artie Mandelberg. With Adam “Edge” Copeland (Nick Blades), Jamie Kennedy (Theo Gold), Jennifer Esposito (Garcia), Alicia Witt (Roslyn Whol), and Jessica Walter (Lena Gold). Released March 9, 2012, by WWE Films.