Looking more swollen and deformed than he did in Sin City, Mickey Rourke reminds us that he’s got a hardscrabble poetry in him — only don’t remind him, please. In The Wrestler, he and Marisa Tomei have a handful of scenes in which he displays the quiet insinuating flirtatiousness that, in Diner so many years ago, convinced the victim of a cruel bet that he’d stuck his pecker through a box of popcorn because she made him “kinda hot.” The Wrestler is not a movie I spent much time thinking about afterward, which is why some of the hosannas hurled its way have mystified me. But it knows exactly what it’s doing. The Nowheresville landscape is rendered with a precision that reminded of William Carlos Williams’ lines in “Spring and All” about a New Jersey “waste of broad, muddy fields brown with dried weeds, standing and fallen.” Darren Aronofksy’s fascination with the kind of transfiguring humiliation you only see in the movies somnambulizes the audience to a conclusion that only those who avoided Marvel Comics as kids won’t see coming; he isn’t resourceful enough as a director to transfigure scenes between Rourke and Evan Rachel Wood that are a total wheeze (Wood is indifferently, cruelly directed).

Whether Rourke can act in less formulaic pictures than The Wrestler is a moot point; he’s so not the man (let alone the actor) he seemed capable of being that flaunting Aronofksy’s stigmatas may be all we can expect. Maybe Jon Favreau, Bryan Singer, or some other sensitive comic book movie auteur can give him another break.

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