BEYOND THE MAT, written and directed by Barry W. Blaustein, produced by Blaustein, Barry Bloom, Brian Grazer and Ron Howard, with Jake Roberts, Mick Foley, Terry Funk, Vince McMahon. 104 minutes. An Imagine Entertainment production. A Lions Gate release. Opens Friday (June 16). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 99. Rating: NNNN
It's summertime, the theatres are filling with dumb action movies, so let's release some documentaries! I'm not sure exactly what kind of decision-making process was involved here, but the fact that the two documentaries discussed here are concerned with such crowd-pleasing subjects as professional wrestling and marijuana may have had something to do with it.
At the beginning of Beyond The Mat, writer-director Barry Blaustein informs us of his long-time obsession with professional wrestling. Of course, this is a man who's made a career out of writing Eddie Murphy comedies, so a fondness for the lowbrow is a given.
More to the point, he makes his fascination palpable in this journey from the heights of the WWF to the depths of one-night stands in tank towns in Nebraska. The focus is on the circuit's lesser lights, like the demon-driven Jack "The Snake" Roberts and the aging Texan Terry Funk, who's still being flung about the ring though he's in his 50s.
Blaustein has managed to make wrestling interesting to someone who's never watched an episode of WWF Smackdown. That's an achievement, but the grainy, shot-on-video look of the film may make it a more satisfying rental than something for which one would spend full theatrical price.