I wish I could tell you how the story of this nice family turns out, but just when Mick was being pounded to a pulp by a giant wielding an iron chair, just as his little girl threw her face into her mother's protective shoulder and his son's eyes grew wide in horror, I was seized with an overwhelming desire not to see a second more of their collective suffering.
Ron Howard's Beyond the Mat is a well-made, occasionally absorbing documentary about the billion-dollar wrestling industry and its legions of bloodthirsty fans. The entertainment spectacle that has evolved from the sport unfolds in squalid arenas for audiences who yelp and cheer in direct proportion to the blood that spatters the wrestling mat.
It is Mr. Howard's intention that we learn what goes on beyond the mat. He will clear up our misconceptions. He says that the sport is "theater at its most base." Fair enough, but the question remains: who really wants to watch theater at its most base? The answer is the huge TV audience that thrills to the sight of oversized live-action figures demolishing each other, fraudulently, for the cameras. They have learned the trade of choreographed violence. It may be all for show, but these wrestlers do get hurt. When the pretend goes wrong, as it does when chairs and ladders are the bludgeons of choice, they suffer. There's no such thing as early retirement in wrestling. They fight till they drop.
The wrestlers are aching wrecks who are handled by fat, beer-swilling, money-hungry promoters whose facial features disappear into their pumpkin faces. Spectators stuff themselves with beer and fatty foods that generate even more flesh as they howl for more violence.
But Ron Howard has something else on his mind. He wants us to know that, if the fans and promoters are beyond watching, the wrestling stars are good, kind, hardworking family men. We meet a former football player turned projectile vomiter. He is, of course, named Puke. After puking on cue during his interview, he calls home, all smiles, and reports, "Hey, Mama, it went real well." That's reassuring.
We meet an aging Terry Funk as he fights one last bloody battle before retiring in his 32nd year. "It's fun," he says. There's a 3rd grade teacher ("I love the drama, I love taking the bumps"), a United Airlines mechanic, and a gruesome man named "Jake the Snake," who has the long reptile wrapped around his neck.
Up to a point, there's a certain fascination in the details of yet another astonishing American subculture. But after we've followed kindly Mick "Mankind," who wants to be known as the "world's most polite wrestler," his pretty wife and two sweet kids, we begin to care just a little when Mick ends up in the ER. One of the biggest draws at the World Wrestling Federation, Mick is a genuinely nice guy.
I wish I could tell you how the story of this nice family turns out, but just when Mick was being pounded to a pulp by a giant wielding an iron chair, just as his little girl threw her face into her mother's protective shoulder and his son's eyes grew wide in horror, I was seized with an overwhelming desire not to see a second more of their collective suffering. So I left.
Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 494
Studio : Lions Gate Films
Rating : R
Running time : 1h42m
Copyright (c) Illusion
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