Movie review: Documentary on David Arquette and pro wrestling gets its hand raised in victory
This is not, I repeat, not, a mockumentary. Admit it: When you heard there was a documentary about the actor David Arquette, who starred in the “Scream” movies, and his involvement in the predetermined-outcome world of professional wrestling, you thought, “Fake documentary. Silly stuff.”
But “You Cannot Kill David Arquette” - the title achieves some gut-wrenching significance late in the film - is an unexpected surprise, an emotional and revealing look at the exploits and inside the mind of someone you likely never gave much thought to before.
It’s a documentary about a man going through a midlife crisis. It’s the story of Arquette’s personal journey to right what he now perceives to be a wrong he once committed, and to make a dream come true. And yes, it’s about professional wrestling.
David Arquette has been a wrestling fan since he was a kid, secretly harboring thoughts of one day taking part in it. But he went into a different sort of acting, one that didn’t require as much athletic ability. He didn’t get involved with working in a ring till, in 2000, he scored a costarring role - with Scott Caan - in the film “Ready to Rumble,” playing a fan who’s trying to help out a washed-up wrestler.
The film featured World Championship Wrestling stars in cameo roles, and got some promotion via Arquette’s appearances on the weekly TV shows “WCW Monday Nitro” and “WCW Thunder. On April 26, 2000, as a publicity stunt, but to the chagrin of wrestlers and wrestling fans, he, an outsider, won the coveted WCW World Heavyweight Championship belt.
That’s not what this documentary is about, though it touches on the blowback suffered by both WCW and by Arquette, who was only doing what he did in his day job: following the script. Tail between his legs, he went back to acting, with parts in “Eight Legged Freaks,” “3,000 Miles to Graceland,” and another “Scream” movie. Though his love of wrestling endured, he was shunned by those within the community, and his dream was shattered.
The documentary is about, two decades later, him finally coming to terms with that. It’s about his decisions to get in shape, train as a wrestler, get in the ring, and show people that he regrets the stain his publicity stunt left on the wrestling business, that he was serious about wanting to wrestle. That, even though he wasn’t championship material, he could climb into a ring and prove himself as a contender, showing that he did not disrespect the sport.
The film features lots of talking heads - from his sisters Patricia and Rosanna and his ex-wife Courteney Cox, to wrestlers Ric Flair and Diamond Dallas Page. Some of the best scenes involve his wife Christina.
But most of this is centered squarely on Arquette, spotlighting moments of elation (a promoter asks if he’ll sign autographs at a convention) and despair (no one wants his autograph), of humor (a promotional photo shoot of him wearing a cape) and of astonishment (while training in Mexico, he participates in the bizarre phenomenon of street wrestling at red lights).
You can see and feel the hope that’s building within him as he gets better at the craft, but the film doesn’t shy away from Arquette’s demons, including alcoholism, anxiety and a heart condition.
Shot in 2018, when he was 46, a tad old for this kind of activity, the film shows an early match for the independent promotion Championship Wrestling from Hollywood, during which he puts on a hell of a show for a small but appreciative crowd. And it takes a really strange turn when he agrees to work in a no holds barred “death match” where something goes very wrong - yes, accidents do happen in wrestling matches, no matter how carefully they’re choreographed.
This is one of the best documentaries of the year, due in no small part to the complexities and determination and endearing qualities of its subject. There’s also a nice treat for wrestling fans in the post-credits section.
“You Cannot Kill David Arquette” premieres digitally and On Demand on Aug. 28.
Ed Symkus can be reached at email@example.com.
“You Cannot Kill David Arquette”
Directed by David Dorg and Price James
With David Arquette, Christina McLarty Arquette, and lots of pro wrestlers