Now to be honest I am not usually the type of dude to go to the documentarian type pictures. In fact, I never even seen one before in my life unless you count watching the news on TV. But this Beyond the Mat was playing at one of the multiplexes in my area so I decided to broaden my horizons and what not. Turns out there were a few others trying to broaden their horizons, because this was the type of crowd that yells “YEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!” when the Freddy claws pop out of the guy in the X-Man preview, and who randomly yell out little jokes from the south park cartoons, you know, to be funny.
This is a documentary about the real lives of professional wrestlers, and I will tell you straight off the bat this movie is great even for those of us who don’t watch wrestling or south park. I mean I like the Roddy Piper pictures as much as the next guy, I’ve watched a little grapple here and there, but I don’t know what the fuck a mankind is or the rock or whatever. I mean who knows. It doesn’t matter.
Right at the beginning the movie explains yes, wrestling is fake, no, wrestling fans don’t think it’s real. But then it goes on to show just how devastating this “fake” sport is on a man’s body and in some cases his soul. It is a business that even more than football or prostitution chews up your body and when you’re old spits you out like a loogie never to think about you again. Because I mean think about it, how long do you think about a loogie after you spit it out, not very long.
There are about four major storylines in this movie. One is about Mick Foley who I guess wrestles as Mankind, Dude Love and Cactus Jack. But in this movie he’s a normal chubby guy who lives with his wife and adorable daughter and son. He is very nice and even normal and he always dreamed of being a wrestler. But it scares his family to always see him drenched from head to toe in his own blood after a match, saying, “Daddy’s okay, daddy’s okay, don’t worry about daddy.”
Another storyline is about the legendary Texan wrestler Terry Funk, whose knees are barely functional. He continues to wrestle while his family believes he should have retired 5-10 years ago. When we first meet him he groggily wakes up in his underwear, then stares at himself in the mirror looking like the saddest motherfucker that ever lived. He’s got that old problem that many in my own former occupation feel, which has been summed up in Hollywood cop movies as “we’re getting too old for this shit.” I mean you know you’re losing your touch, you’re getting slower, your leg is probaly gonna fall off next time you try to knee drop a guy but you just can’t stop. Throughout the movie we get to see Terry struggle with whether or not to retire.
But the saddest storyline by far is about Jake “The Snake” Roberts. I remember this motherfucker, he was skinny and plain for a wrestler, but he was a superstar because he had a cold look in his eye, he brought a boa constrictor into the ring and he brought Alice Cooper with him when he wrestled in front of like 90,000 people at a wrestlemania. Well that was in the ’80s, now Jake is living in crappy hotels, addicted to crack, performing for some independent league in front of a few dedicated fans. He is much scarier looking now, his face wrinkled, belly bloated, voice gravely, body sheathed in a leather trenchcoat and his eyes giving a pretty good indication of how much horror he’s seen in his life.
Part of Jake’s problem is his past as a wrestling superstar. He says that in the days when he had to wrestle every day, board 8-9 planes a week, it was impossible to function without sleeping pills and cocaine. He also became addicted to sex with groupies which he makes sound a lot less pleasant than I might make it.
But the real demons haunting Jake were there before the wrestling. Turns out this motherfucker has a backstory like Freddy Krueger or somebody out of one of my prison stories. He was conceived when his father raped a sleeping 13 year old. His father was a wrestler who treated him like shit, he got into wrestling not out of a passion for the Art but to prove he could do it better than his father. Well he pulled that one off, but he’s doing no better in the fathering ring, which you will see in a heartbreaking reunion with his neglected, angry daughter.
What’s great about this movie is that it’s about these guys in these ridiculous outfits doing this silly theatrics and what not, but it’s full of genuine emotion. I dare you motherfuckers to not be affected by Jake’s visit to his father’s house, or the scene they’ve been showing clips of to promote the movie, where Mick Foley’s family cries as he is bashed over the head with a steel chair, and the wrestling fans around them look at them like, “What the fuck?”
There is even some sweetness in there. Mick Foley wonders if the crowd got their money’s worth as he looks in the mirror at a huge, dripping gash in his head. As he lays on the ground, medics wrapping bandages around his freshly stitched head, his daughter says “Daddy looks cute.”
All of the people in this movie are fascinating, even the people that just make cameos. I wanted to see more of Jake and Mick and Terry. I wanted to find out more about Koko B. Ware, this flamboyant black dude who used to be on top but still tries to stay upbeat in his tiny hotel room putting on a sequin jacket and talking about his parrot Franky like he’s a person.
I also wanted to see more of the sleazy guys. Vince McMahon, the billionaire owner of the WWF, made me laugh as he tries to pump up a guy who he’s hiring just for his ability to puke, or casually insults the wrestling skills of two auditioning newcomers. But later he is shirtless and blood drenched like the rest of them, because he too has the need to perform.
The character I most want to see more of though is this weasely fat dude who runs a small wrestling school. You know who he looks like, tony clifton from last year’s big wrestling picture the man on the moon. He’s got this gigantic belly and he tells two musclemen they need to watch their diets and stay away from the jack in the box. Later he laments that one of his wrestlers is “too big to be a flyer, but to small to be a heavyweight.” It looks like a tear is about to come out of his eye even as he rolls a toothpick around in his mouth. I mean this motherfucker is hilarious.
This is not a documentary about how wrestling is done. It does not answer any of the big questions, like if Jake the Snake is holed up in the Ramada then where the fuck does he keep that boa constrictor. What it is is a brief and amazing glimpse into what it’s like to be a regular guy who willingly destroys his own bones and muscles for a living.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.