Movie Reviews

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Sunday, September 9, 2011
by David Templeton

Familiar faces, places to debut on big screen Thursday

No one will ever mistake North Franklin for Tinseltown, but the township and its residents will experience big-screen magic Thursday when the movie ‘Reversal’ premieres at Hollywood Theaters in Washington Crown Center.

The independently produced movie filmed in Washington High School and the Washington area is a father-and-son love story based on the life of screenwriter and executive producer James Petulla.

“In the end ‘Reversal’ is a triumph of spirit that demonstrates there must be a balance between discipline and freedom‹and that sometimes you must give up what you have to get what you want,” according to the Web site http//

‘Reversal’ will open Friday at Hollywood Theaters and run through Sept. 28.

Sports celebrities, including Steelers broadcaster Myron Cope, former Steelers players, and Olympic gold-medal wrestlers Kurt Angle, Tommy Brands, Kendal Cross and Brandon Slay, will attend premiere showings at 7 p.m. Friday and during Saturday matinees. Call the theater a 724-222-6007 for show times.

Although biographical for Petulla the movie, he said, “isn’t as dark as my life was.”

He was raised in Oil City,Venago County where his father coached wrestling for no pay. Petulla bore the burden of living his father’s dream.

“The story is about my life,” he said. “My only way to pay for college was through wrestling and losing weight. My senior year, I promised my girlfriend I would go to a party with her, but I couldn’t go because I had to lose weight. That night she was killed in a automobile accident.”

Rather than attend college, Petulla became a disc jockey before landing a job with and becoming vice president of Columbia School of Broadcasting. For 15 years, the Malibu, Calif., resident has operated his company, Career Connection, which trains and places people in radio, television, film and recording engineering jobs.

With friends in the film industry, Petulla decided to take acting lessons from Sandy Meisner of Actors Studio in New York City, who assigned him to do a personal monologue. That’s when he recalled his relationship with his father and developed the idea for a movie.

Hoping to turn his monologue into a movie script, Petulla hired two Hollywood scriptwriters and spent thousands without results. “So I sat down and wrote a script in two weeks,” he said. The reaction from Alan Vint was positive.

Vint held lead roles in the films “Panic in Needle Park, “Badlands,” “Macon County Line and “Two-Lane Blacktop.” He wrote two one-act plays and worked with actors Nick Nolte and Jim Gammon to improve their skills. He was head of development for Robert Urich Productions and help Urich with his role in the television show “Spencer for Hire.” Petulla said Vint liked the realism and honesty of the script and signed on as director.

Jeff Danna, who composed the score for ‘Reversal,’ has done scores for “Beverly Hills 90210” and, more recently, “O,” the modern­day version of Shakespeare’s “Othello,” among other movies and television productions.

‘Reversal’ cost Petulla $500,000 to make, and it had its Hollywood premiere June 20 and 21 at Paramount Studios.

He hopes that success at the Hollywood Theaters box office will prove the movie has commercial appeal as a family film devoid of sex and violence.

But Petulla said the movie is a compelling drama “in the spirit of ‘Rudy’ and the tradition of ‘Rocky,’ ” while representing a “gritty, realistic picture of the sport of high school wrestling set in a small East Coast town.” Concerned about an honest portrayal of competitive wrestling, Petulla and his film crew auditioned local wrestlers. Danny Mousetis — the Washington High School wrestler who won the 2000 WPIAL Class AA title at 125 pounds, placed second in the Southwest Regional tournament and seventh in the PIAA tournament — stars as Leo Leone. Mousetis, who had a grade-point average exceeding 4.0, attends the University of Pennsylvania. Wrestling scenes in the movie are authentic.

Making a film in the wrestling hotbed of Washington County boosted realism and proved practical for the project.

Originally, Petulla planned to film in Oil City but found it too expensive for Pittsburgh film crews to travel and live in Oil City during two weeks of filming. So he searched for a town in Pittsburgh’s Metropolitan area, and Washington proved to be ideal.

He settled on Washington after giving a script to Washington High School wrestling coach Frank Rotunda, who told him Washington was a “huge wrestling area.”

Petulla, who plays Coach Leone, initially planned to hire professional actors to play key roles but decided to audition local people who fit the parts.

He found what he was looking for in Mousetis, a handsome wrestler with natural acting ability. Petulla describes him as the next Tom Cruise.

Derek Nelson,7, of Waynesburg, plays the role of the young Leo Leone, and their likeness is amazing.

Other residents have parts, including Washington County Commissioner J. Braken Burns as a doctor, Jerry Seaman of Donegal Township as a wrestling trainer and retired North Franklin police Chief Roger Cuccaro as Mr. Blasswell. Rotunda serves as assistant coach.

“It’s better to have all unknowns, Petulla said. “I can’t wait till this town sees these kids in this film. I got them to be themselves.

Seaman, who teaches young wrestlers at his barn along Route 40 east of Claysville, plays the character of “Jerry the Barn” and exemplifies someone who successfully plays himself. “No actor could have done Jerry’s role as good as Jerry.” Petulla said, “Not even [actor] Robert Duvall could do that. Jerry is Jerry.”

The home of Washington artist Ray Dunlevy was used as the Leone house. Another so-called character in the movie is a 1966 fastback Mustang owned at the time by Washington sculptor Alan Cottrill. Petulla said the movie includes “a simple car and a simple life in a small town.”

“Check out the movie and see the town,” he said. “I believe in my heart the American people will like this film, and people in small towns will see and support it.”

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