Movie Reviews

Wrestling USA Magazine

by John Rizzuti

Reversal: A Wrestler’s Story

It is important to put my review of the just-released movie, “Reversal” in proper perspective. It’s only fair to inform the readers of Wrestling USA that I worked on two of Reversal’s extra scenes as a writer. I also work with producer James Petulla on the marketing of the DVD and VHS editions of Reversal. Frankly, I think Reversal is an excellent movie. Dozens of high-profile Olympic Gold Medalists and other superstar athletes who have seen the film share this viewpoint. Also, several major film festivals gave the movie significant awards earlier this year, including “Outstanding Achievement in Filmmaking,” “Best Actor” and “Audience Choice” awards.

A second note. This is not a “wrestling” movie. It’s a family film about love, conflict and destiny set in the often turbulent world of high school wrestling. The wrestling scenes in the movie are real, not choreographed like those in Vision Quest. The final match between two real-life Pennsylvania state champions is a classic.

Film Synopsis — The Reversal Story
Leo Leone (Danny Mousetis, Pennsylvania state champion, now wrestling at Penn) has been competing since he was seven years old. He is the only son of wrestling coach and former state champion Edward Leone (James Petulla). Leo’s dedication to the sport is inexorably woven with love for his father. Now Leo is seventeen. His life has been an endless cycle of training, sacrifice and starving to make weight ­ a process that is now more difficult during the closing matches of his high school career. He’s tired of denying himself everything, and is feeling the allure of a world beyond the mat.

To complicate things further, Leo has fallen in love with Shaw (Kelly Vint), a vivacious, yet mysterious, schoolmate.

Living paycheck to paycheck, working a dead-end day job in the coal mines while coaching for no money, Ed sees a wrestling scholarship to Oklahoma University as his son’s best shot to escape the stark reality of life in a small Pennsylvania town.

As the state wrestling championships near, the conflict between father and son escalates. The pressure leads Leo into excessive training and life-threatening weight-cutting techniques and creates rivalries within the team. A new kid, Thurman Ellis, Jr. (Justin Spates, Pennsylvania state wrestling champion, now wrestling at Missouri), has moved into town. He’s not just any transfer, but an Ohio state champion who wrestles in the same weight-class as Leo.

Pushed hard by his father, Thurman Ellis, Sr. (Guido Foehrweisser), the conflict and, ultimately, the climatic battle between the wrestlers is further complicated by the tug-of-war between Ellis, Sr. and the coach.

In the end, Reversal is a triumph of the spirit that demonstrates that there must be a balance between discipline and freedom ­ and that sometimes you must give up what you have to get what you want.

Reversal Highlights
There are many aspects of Reversal that showcase tremendous filmmaking skills. The cinematography of William H. Molina is superb. From the breath-taking opening sequence of a winding river and rolling hills of western Pennsylvania to the multiple wrestling sequences, Molina demonstrates skills on par with any shooter in Hollywood today.

Jeff Danna’s motion picture soundtrack is also superb. So good, in fact, that a CD has been cut to go with the movie. I particularly enjoyed maniacal metal rocker Don Dokken’s cover of the Alice Cooper classic “I’m Eighteen” and the greatest southern rockers of all-time, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Tomorrow’s Goodbye.”

Movie producer James Petulla penned the screenplay in three weeks at his home in Malibu, California in his backyard overlooking the brilliant blue expanses of the Pacific Ocean. For his first effort or for any screenplay, it is a job well done. I have read the entire screenplay (some scenes were deleted from the movie’s final edit) and while there are some holes in the plot, it captures the multiple storylines nicely.

The acting in the movie ranges from average to wonderful. James Petulla’s performance as Ed (his father in real-life) is inspired and well done. He won “Best Actor” at the IndieVision Tribeca Film Festival in New York edging out Hollywood heavyweight Chas Palmenteri. The best performance in the movie comes from last-minute replacement Kelly Vint, the daughter of director Alan Vint. She is fantastic. I expect to see her in more films in the future. Both Danny Mousetis and Justin Spates turn in surprisingly good performances and both of these young men proved they can act. Dawn Lafferty who played Leo’s dysfunctional alcoholic and pill-popping mother in the movie (and the only full-time actor in the film) was average at best.

Many of the film’s actors and extras came from the Washington, Pennsylvania area (where the movie was shot) and did very well. Other kudos go to director Alan Vint. His sequences at the “barn” where Leo undergoes rigorous training to make weight are well directed, as are the blossoming romance sequences between Leo and Shaw.

Reversal’s Controversial Scenes
Reversal is not without controversy. The are several graphic scenes in the movie that revolve around Leo trying to lose weight to first make 125 pounds, then cutting even more to make 119 pounds for the state meet. The movie is based on the true story of producer James Petulla’s life as a young wrestler. “What happened in the movie is exactly what I went through to make weight,” said Petulla. “I wanted the movie to show the hell I went through. I nearly died trying to make weight. I wanted the scenes to replicate what it was really like. I did not want to skirt or sugarcoat the issue.” The film takes place in the 1970’s and the rules for weight control were different then. After three college wrestlers died in a one-month period during the 1997-98 season, the rules were changed to prevent serious consequences occurring during rapid weight loss.

The NCAA, the National High School Federation and USA Wrestling all instituted new regulations to prevent severe and rapid weight reduction. Today, wrestlers are encouraged to compete as close to their natural weight as possible. There is a disclaimer that runs at the end of the film regarding the weight-cutting issues and what has been done to prevent serious consequences of rapid weight loss.

In addition, the producers of Reversal have included an “Extra” scene in the DVD version that covers safe weight reduction and proper nutrition for wrestlers and other athletes who are interested in maintaining minimum body fat and maximum performance under demanding athletic conditions. The scene content is timely and relevant as most of the vital information came from the National Wrestling Coaches Association and USA Wrestling websites.

The bottom line is that while the movie does depict exactly what the young wrestler went through, the DVD extra features include proper weight management and nutrition. In that extra feature, movie star Danny Mousetis says that they way it was done in the movie is not the way to do it today. He advises wrestlers to compete as close to their natural weight as possible.

Much like “Full Metal Jacket” (Stanley Kubrick’s Vietnam-era film) is an anti-war movie, Reversal is an anti-weight cutting movie.

There is also a scene that takes place at a high school keg party where there is obviously underage drinking. Unexpectedly, Leo is not at the party because he is away training for the state sectionals. I won’t give away what happens after the party, except to say that it is tragic.

The biggest surprise of the DVD and extended VHS is a segment on Title IX. I wrote and produced this segment. I want the world to know in plain and simple language exactly what is happening to the sport of college wrestling, and how they can help stop the sport’s rapid demise.

James Petulla has agreed to contribute 5% of the net profits of the DVD and VHS sales to the NWCA to help in the legal fight the ban the use of the proportionality prong of Title IX (in effect a gender quota system in reverse) that has so devastated the sport of college wrestling.

The segment on Title IX is nothing fancy. I speak directly to the audience about the effects of this quota system on the sport of college wrestling. At the end of the segment, there is a call-to-action for people watching to send a contribution directly to NWCA executive director Mike Moyer in support of the expensive legal battle on Title IX.

Right before the request for donations, there is a scroll of the number of programs dropped per state, and that visual boggles the mind. The Title IX segment is powerful.

The movie is certainly fitting for today’s families who have school-aged youngsters competing in sports. The main story theme of Reversal is repeated countless times all over the country to one extreme or the other. The movie is rated PG-13 due to minor references to adolescent sex and scenes of underage drinking and its unfortunate consequences. The DVD or VHS may be ordered by going to

Reversal Cast

Leo Leone Danny Mousetis
Young Leo Derrick Nelson
Coach Leone James Petulla
Jessica Dawn Lafferty
Shaw Kelly Vint
Roger John Lloyd, Fr.
Johnny Jeff Breese
Thurman Ellis, Jr. Justin Spates
Thurman Ellis, Sr. Guido “Cougar” Foehrweisser


2002 Malibu International Film Festival
Feature Film (Audience Choice)
Producer: James Petulla
Director: Alan Vint

2002 IndieVision Tribeca Film Festival
Outstanding Achievement in Filmmaking — Reversal
Best Actor ­ James Petulla

Reversal Receives the Dove “Family-Approved” Seal
Reversal has won approval by the Dove Foundation Review Board. The Foundation believes that the content expressed makes for the kind of story family members can enjoy together with confidence.

The Dove Family-Approved Seal is awarded to movies and other entertainment products that portray and encourage positive values.

Reversal The Movie Digitally Remastered Directors On Demand Pre Order Now