John Cena is the best thing about Trainwreck. In a movie made of things, rather than characters, Cena gives his full-bodied all — and shows nearly all. Portraying an unfair notion about bodybuilders as lunkheads, he plays one you wouldn’t say no to.
As Steve, a physically imposing and intellectually dim gym rat, Cena takes the role to surprising extremes. His smooth, hard-muscled mass is a comic object as much as a sex object. His jumbo Jarhead image evokes the old Meat Rack argument “He’s too dumb to fuck/ Nobody that hot is too dumb to fuck.”
Trainwreck extends that joke to mixed results: Straight Steve dates Amy (played by Amy Schumer, the film’s star and writer) who fucks the way men are known to — casually, promiscuously and judgmentally. She feels that she’s too smart for Steve’s simple, unhip desire for commitment. Amy always puts Steve in a bad spot, even when he’s on top of her in bed — although he’s best seen there where his museum-quality bulk and curves have a sheen like a Praxiteles statue. When at the movies, Amy drunkenly embarrasses Steve, nearly getting him into a scuffle (“I’m a big guy, everybody wants to fight the big guy”). Amy’s rejection of Steve makes the movie rotten — ungenerous and emotionally crude — but Cena’s big grin outshines it.
Like in his WWE years, as a wrestler who grapples and aggresses with something like formidable integrity, he suggests a stripped-down Boy Scout grown into his adult potential. Cena makes Steve too good for Trainwreck’s skank heroine. As many wrestling fans know, Cena’s always made for a prime bedroom poster, a sort of G-rated Matthew Rush. This physical quality inadvertently turns his Trainwreck scenes into gay comic fantasy: Steve’s attempts at talking dirty are steeped in gym regimen, ending in a climactic outburst that indicates what could be called his fluid sexuality. (Though this innuendo is also kinda homophobic.)
Anyone who has seen Cena in the films The Marine and especially Mel Damski’s Legendary knows he’s not just a body but is also a good, emotionally convincing actor — wrestlers have to be. In Trainwreck, he seems to be in on the jokes (the same way Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was in Pain & Gain) even when the jokes go against Steve in a sometimes troubling, implicitly gay-shaming way — as if that’s what makes Steve unsuitable for not-so-advanced Amy.
It would take a better director than Judd Apatow to do justice to the image of Cena’s sculptured flesh, or certainly a visually attuned humorist like Frank Tashlin who knew his way around pin-ups. It would also take a screen as wide as the Cinerama frame (as in the eye-opening This Is Cinerama) to contain the iron-pumping fantasy Cena inspires.
Schumer probably has gay fans who enjoy her bawdiness, but Trainwreck’s humiliation of male figures shows a hint of homophobia and misandry that is surprising for enlightened mainstream Hollywood (where even Mae West in Myra Breckinridge appreciated her muscle studs). Schumer enlists other pro athletes Amar'e Stoudemire, LeBron James, and Tony Romo — all impressive, Cinerama-worthy specimen — but they might be better respected by members of the other team. Looking at how Cena goes unappreciated in Trainwreck, you want to redirect that old hetero put-down of gays: “What a waste!”
Trainwreck opens in theaters July 17. Watch the red band trailer below: