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Walk Like a Panther

Rewinding to the 1980s, I fondly recall many happy Saturday afternoons spent in front of the gogglebox, engrossed in the wrestling rivalry between Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks on World Of Sport presented by Dickie Davies. It was a family-friendly pantomime with a cast of generously proportioned men in unflattering leotards, surrounded by baying children and pensioners, who greeted each belly flop and half nelson with effusive chants of: "Easy! Easy!" Halcyon days... First-time writer-director Dan Cadan tries - and sadly fails - to recapture the glory of this bygone wrestling era in the Yorkshire-set comedy Walk Like A Panther. The film's overly sentimental heart is in the right place, bringing together a homegrown cast for a tale of triumph against adversity and unerring community spirit that faintly echoes the emotional beats of The Full Monty. Regrettably, Cadan's script is all over the place, shoe-horning a multitude of malnourished, two-dimensional characters and gossamer-thin subplots into 108 minutes of dramatic stumbles and romantic mismatches. During the 1980s, Trevor "Bulldog" Bolton (Dave Johns) and his stable of wrestling demigods - the Panthers - pulled in a TV audience of millions with their daredevil, lycra-clad antics inside the ring. The cancellation of wrestling on ITV in 1988 sounded the death knell for Trevor and co, who hung up their leotards to concentrate on raising families. Thirty years later, Trevor's son Mark (Stephen Graham) is landlord of the pub, The Half Nelson, which is the epicentre of community life. When scheming brewery manager Paul Peterson (Stephen Tompkinson) vows to sell the land to a local developer, Mark hurriedly co-ordinates a fundraising evening of tag-team wrestling to keep the bulldozers from the front door. It has been almost three decades since the Panthers ricocheted around a ring and slippery promoter Popsy Wilson Jnr (Steve Furst) doubts there is still an audience for the razzmatazz of old-school grappling. He changes his tune when a bar room brawl involving the Panthers and local lout Ricky Rickson (Michael Socha) goes viral. Consequently, Mark prepares to make his public wrestling debut alongside his father and other faded stars including Tony "Sweet Cheeks" Smith (Julian Sands), Danny "Screwball" Dixon (Adam Fogerty), Lara "Liplock" Anderson (Jill Halfpenny), Zulu Dawn (Robbie Gee), Derek "Corkscrew" Dixon (Rob Parker), Glenn "Gladiator" Higgins (Stephen Marcus), Cliff "Edge" Morris (Neil Fitzmaurice) and masked villain Lesley Beck (Christopher Fairbank). Walk Like A Panther limps from the opening frames. Graham, Johns and the cast give their all, especially in physically demanding sequences, but the faltering script grossly short-changes everyone. Punchlines face-plant the ground with disconcerting regularity. Visual and verbal gags that do connect, like a hairdressing salon called Spartacuts where customers are greeted with a hale and hearty "Hail scissors!", are notable by their depressing paucity.