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Made here, 'Reversal' wrestles with pressures of sport

Saturday, September 22, 2001

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

The independent movie "Reversal," shot last year in Washington County and playing through Sept. 28 at the Hollywood Theaters at Crown Center in Washington, undoubtedly owes much of its emotional depth and verisimilitude to the ability of its writer and star, Jimi Petulla, to translate his own experiences as a high school wres-tling champion to the screen.

Those qualities help compensate for the film's flaws, which stem mostly from the strictures caused by a very small budget and the decision to cast amateur actors, chosen primarily for their wrestling ability, in some of the key roles.


dot.gifRating: Unrated; contains vulgar language and substance abuse.

dot.gifStarring: Jimi Petulla, Danny Mousetis.

dot.gifDirector: Alan Vint.

dot.gifCritic's call:


Petulla plays Edward Leone, a high-school wrestling coach who has been pushing his teen-age son, Leo (Danny Mousetis), in the sport for most of the boy's life. Growing up in a small coal town in Western Pennsylvania, Edward never got to go to college. He ended up working in the mines and stuck in a loveless marriage.

He knows that Leo's only hope of escaping the same fate is for the boy to win a college wrestling scholarship. But he pushes too hard, especially now that Leo has reached adolescence and found a girlfriend, Shaw (Kelly Boone), who makes him start questioning what he really wants in life.

Is it really worth the torture of making weight -- starving yourself, throwing up, working out endlessly? Leo may be endangering his health and even his life for a dream that he realizes may not be as important as his growing attraction for Shaw.

By film's end, we learn more about the harsh cruelties in Edward's background and watch as life deals additional blows to the characters. It is surprising to find such darkness in a movie of this scope, but it feels credible. Petulla based the film on his own life growing up in Oil City.

He and Boone offer two of the better performances in the movie. Mousetis, a Washington High School student who represents the third generation of WPIAL wrestling champions in his family, is strong in the physical scenes but has a tendency to swallow lines or deliver them without enough emphasis. Both adult and teen-age performers vary widely in the polish of their performances.

Director Alan Vint makes the most of his locations, contrasting the beauty of the countryside with the stark reality of life in a coal town.

It seems obvious that some financial compromises had to be made. For example, in a scene where one character is flying to California, he boards a small propeller-driven aircraft at the Washington County Airport. Isn't it more likely he would go on a jet from nearby Pittsburgh International Airport?

This coming-of-age story fits into a familiar genre of sports films about youngsters being pushed too hard to succeed as a way of fulfilling larger dreams: the football film "All the Right Moves" and the basketball movie "One on One" come to mind. But the distinct venue and subculture of "Reversal," filtered through the personal experiences of its writers and many of its performers, work to its benefit.

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