By DANIEL SONNINSHINE
Every holiday season welcomes movies that are inspirational and can bring joy to viewers. This holiday season is not only no exception, but can use divine motivation and exultation more than ever, given the hysteria that has beset the world over the last several months. Enter A Wrestling Christmas Miracle, a new, somewhat star-ladened film that does just that.
A thoughtful, very often funny holiday flick, A Wrestling Christmas Miracle is, at its core, a story of inspiration. There is inspiration through friendship. Inspiration through family. And, though not thrust in the audience’s face via preachy dialogue, inspiration through God. The movie’s synopsis provides a fine overview of the film:
An 11-year old phenom wrestler with an undefeated record, Kace Gabriel gives up the sport to write/direct a movie. He believes that if the film makes his best friend, Charlie, laugh on Christmas Day it will awake the boy from a coma. Kace’s dad, Ajax Gabriel, an Olympian wrestler with a mysterious side career, supports his son’s wish, cautioning that the friend may never come out of his slumber. A week before Christmas, the movie is produced – with Ajax and a zany cast of characters starring in it – ready to make all laugh. Ajax departs to Africa, where he headlines The Christmas Coup in the Congo, a wrestling tournament that has him scheduled to return on Christmas, just in time for the movie presentation to Charlie. Instead of all going as planned, however, the sole hard drive containing the movie is stolen by disgruntled, bumbling actors. And The Christmas Coup in the Congo turns out to be a real coup with the overthrow of the country’s communist dictator – and with Ajax being right in the center of it all. Kace and his mother, unable to get in touch with Ajax in the Congo, go on a crazy cat and mouse game in trying to retrieve the movie hard drive that is being held for ransom. What ensues is an inspirational, funny thrill ride, with twist after twist – and a climatic, unexpected ending that could only happen on Christmas.
As promised, A Wrestling Christmas Miracle does indeed deliver an inspirational ending, though the audience may be able to figure it out. Viewers, however, likely will not see the twist in the climatic scene coming. The movie is indeed rather humorous; it could fairly be described as extremely funny several times throughout. The writing is smart, in that it is a comedy that will resonate with both adults and children alike. It’s a family film, but, more so, it’s a Christmas movie. In that regard, the movie produces the required emotion to make people smile – and happy – during the holiday season or any time of the year. Its motivational moments are strong. The writing, in its sum total, warrants an “A” grade, as it quite perfectly mixes comedy with mystery, and skillfully intertwines a “movie within the movie” aspect, something which often fails in films that try to carry out such a complicated endeavor; the audience is never confused with what’s happening.
The director, Chris T. Anthony – who also tripled-up as the film’s cinematographer and editor – very capably technically led the production ship as a first-time helmer. In dealing with the visual hardship of explaining how the movie’s patriarch, Olympian Ajax Gabriel, has victoriously wrestled an elephant, giraffe and the Congo dictator (as he orchestrated a CIA-style overthrow of that dictator), Anthony cleverly designed a series of moving radio shots, that transferred from character to character. His efforts compensated for the lack video footage, allowing for the information to not only be understood, but to also be entertaining. Well directed actors, likewise, assisted in efficaciously completing this task.
Like nearly all independent movies (and all movies altogether, for that matter), however, A Wrestling Christmas Miracle has a few flaws, namely insufficient production funds to show much of anything that occurs in the aforementioned “The Christmas Coup in the Congo” part of the film. In other words, there is no battle footage or any scenes in The Congo at all; instead, we hear about it through radio reports (as described above), TV reports, and dialogue among characters who are in America. But, alas, this does not matter much in the overall evaluation of the film, since the production is otherwise a stalwart, most notably through its actors.
Ingenious are the performances of the two villains, Chuck played by Buddy Fitzpatrick (American Criminal) and Ms. Kitty Kat played Julie McCullough (“Growing Pains”). Fitzpatrick, who co-wrote the movie with producer Kenneth Del Vecchio (The Life Zone; The Great Fight), is brilliant as the “brilliant” mastermind behind the theft of the “movie within the movie’s” hard drive. In many ways, he is reminiscent of Gene Hackman’s “Lex Luthor” in Superman. He is no dummy; rather, he is mad intelligent. He has a chip on his shoulder, and despises his nemesis; in A Wrestling Christmas Miracle, it’s Ajax Gabriel (played by co-writer Del Vecchio). But can Chuck actually defeat Ajax and, more so, Ajax’s superstar son Kace? Well, like any true comic book-style villain, Chuck thinks so—and Fitzpatrick flawlessly delivers. He is wicked, yet somehow has a smidgeon of likeability. In the scene where Chuck and Kitty Kat steal the hard-drive (and all of Kace’s Christmas presents), clad in Grinch costuming, the viewer feels like he/she is actually watching Dr. Seuss’s the Grinch in observing Fitzpatrick’s measured performance. A simple sly smile by Fitzpatrick later in the movie so effortlessly says “The Grinch”, which is the act of a truly outstanding actor.
The comedic timing between the pair of Fitzpatrick and his on-screen partner in crime, McCollough, is just right. McCullough is equal parts “Ms. Teschmacher” (Valerie Perrine) and “Otis” (Ned Beatty), Lex Luther’s sidekicks. She is bumbling, vibrant, and so sillily funny in her portrayal of Kitty Kat. McCullough ensures that she evens out Chuck, so the pair, in their totality are not villains who you are rooting for, but you enjoy the ride with them.
Candy Fox as Cassandra Gabriel is charming, witty, a bit sassy, and strong in playing the film’s only “straight guy” (though she’s clearly the pretty mom/wife). Scott Schwartz (The Toy; A Christmas Story) – the kid who got his tongue stuck on the pole in the latter Christmas classic – is formidable in an amusing performance as the out-of-synch uncle. Schwartz and Fox work well together as the opposing tandem to Fitzpatrick/McCullough in the cat and mouse efforts over the stolen movie hard drive.
Fitzpatrick, McCullough – and multiple other actors from the primary A Wrestling Christmas Miracle storyline – double as actors in the “movie within the movie”, making the totality of their performances more substantive and impressive, while allowing the “movie within the movie” to seamlessly blend into the overall film. Additional key players in the “movie within the movie” include some recognizable names, all of whom are quite funny: Martin Kove (“Cobra Kai”; The Karate Kid), Gilbert Gottfried (Emmy nominee; Problem Child), Jimmie Walker (Golden Globe nominee; “Good Times”), Michael Winslow (Police Academy; Spaceballs), and Todd Bridges (“Different Strokes”; “Everybody Hates Chris”). Joe Bronzi, playing a multi-personality movie sales agent, and Suzi Lorraine, playing Charlie’s quirky mother, provide additional laugh-out-loud moments in the film.
While Chuck and Kitty Kat serve as the potential foils, the Gabriels are at the center of A Wrestling Christmas Miracle. But how couldn’t they be? They’re a family of Olympians, almost above the fray of reality – but still real and believable in their astonishing physical and mental facilities. The actors playing Kace and Ajax Gabriel, in real-life, have rather amazing backgrounds, and they bring those aptitudes to their roles.
A real-life nationally ranked youth wrestler, Mario Del Vecchio (who placed second in Alabama’s Deep South Nationals tournament in July of this year), expertly plays the lead role of Kace Gabriel. Also an experienced child actor who has acted in over 10 films alongside multiple Oscar and Emmy nominees, including playing the lead in last year’s companion film, A Karate Christmas Miracle, Del Vecchio delivers in high gear in both thespian and athletic abilities, in successfully pulling off this role. Co-star Julie McCullough said in an article in New Jersey’s daily newspaper, The Record, that Del Vecchio is “a little girl’s dream”, matching an assessment of many that he is a strikingly handsome young man. More so, his true wrestling bonafides instantly render him wholly believable in this role. The film’s trailer exhibits his superior wrestling skills, as well as numerous clips in the movie; Del Vecchio has won and placed in numerous tournaments over multiple states.
A straight-A student who also is a real-life standout football player, Del Vecchio is a QB sack machine, as seen here. Equally important, Del Vecchio is poignant in his character’s intensity and strength to not only write/direct a film (the movie within the movie) to roust his best friend out of a coma, but in the family’s search to retrieve the movie’s stolen hard drive. In A Wrestling Christmas Miracle, 12-year-old (at the time of the movie’s production 11-year-old) Mario Del Vecchio beats away the difficulty of playing a role that requires multiple skills, and provides the requisite highly-talented performance needed of a child actor to make a family Christmas movie a success. He makes this movie work.
Real-life father Kenneth Del Vecchio delivers a proficient performance as Ajax Gabriel. His “movie within the movie” role of “Agent Truman”, though, is what really stands out. A reprise of Del Vecchio’s critically acclaimed role in the crazy horror-comedy cult film Scavenger Killers, Del Vecchio tones Agent Truman down to Christmas movie status, letting loose some of the funniest moments in the movie via his ego-maniac, mute, wheel-chair bound government agent character. His sign language delivery is gut-busting funny, this time verbally through “Agent Sheridan” (Oriana D’Agostino), played in the same, poised matter-of-fact, dark humor skill as her Scavenger Killers predecessor, “Agent Templeton” (Kim Allen).
The elder Del Vecchio also shows off some of his own real-life physical strength prowess, in exacting a rough-house arm drag upon Fitzpatrick, crippling his on-screen archenemy into a perfect wrestling cradle. A former high school wrestler himself, Del Vecchio has been much more recognized for his aberrational weightlifting abilities. At one point, he was in the top five in the nation in bench press for his weight class; he has won over 50 bench press competitions, at his best lifting 450 pounds while weighing just 170 pounds. See it here. And see it here. The younger Del Vecchio, Mario, also is quite the physical strength specimen. Watch him here.
Not far off from his brash “Agent Truman” character, in the real world, adversaries of Del Vecchio have called him bombastic, hard, argumentative, overly masculine, and yes – an ego maniac. However, it seems many others have complimentary words for him.
Legendary actor Paul Sorvino (Goodfellas; Nixon) called Del Vecchio “an extraordinary man.” Two-time Academy Award nominee Charles Durning (Tootsie; The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas) exclaimed that “Kenneth Del Vecchio is an excellent filmmaker and would make a great leader!” Academy Award nominee Eric Roberts (The Expendables; The Pope of Greenwich Village) stated that “Kenneth Del Vecchio is the only judge I ever agreed with in personal conversation. He’s got some great views about freedom and liberty…and he’s a little bit nuts!” TV star Joyce DeWitt (”Three’s Company”) declared that Del Vecchio has “a vision and concept based on excellence and integrity.” Academy Award nominee Robert Loggia (Scarface; Big) said of Del Vecchio: “The man is honest. Hard-working. Talented. And oh so intelligent.”
A veteran writer/director/producer of over 30 movies distributed through majors such as Sony Pictures, Lionsgate, NBCUniversal, and Eone Entertainmnet, Del Vecchio is also a best-selling author of legal books (Pearson Education/Prentice Hall and ALM), best-selling novelist (wrote first novel as a law student), TV legal analyst (Quick Hits News, Fox News, i24 News) who has also published for ESN, attorney who has tried hundreds of cases, former judge, and the founder/chairman of Hoboken International Film Festival, called by Fox and other major media “one of the 10 biggest film festivals in the world.”
The combined unique accomplishments between real-life father and son Kenneth Del Vecchio and Mario Del Vecchio have culminated in them being called a modern-day “Renaissance Man” and “Renaissance Boy” by this media outlet and multiple others. The combined accomplishments of their performances through their movie characters, Ajax Gabriel/Agent Truman and Kace Gabriel – in concert with the great performances of the other notable actors in this movie, as well as the film’s writing and directing – has resulted in A Wrestling Christmas Miracle being called a critical winner. This film is a must see for families, Christmas and holiday film fans, wrestling enthusiasts, and those who enjoy inspirational films – not to mention, those who just like a good comedy.
A Wrestling Christmas Miracle, distributed by Green Apple Entertainment, can be watched on demand on many cable networks, as well as on Amazon Prime Video and several other VOD platforms.
Daniel Sonninshine is an Empire State News staff writer, who is in search of greatness. A 20-something smart fellow, he is now lifting weights in an effort to obtain more power. If that doesn’t work, he will ask to write more editorials for Empire State News and less fact articles. He also dabbles in film reviews. Favorite flicks include The Godfather, Blazing Saddles, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, It’s a Wonderful Life, and The Passion of the Christ.
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