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Beyond The Mat


Beyond The Mat

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At least four potentially fascinating documentaries are reduced to a single mediocre one in Beyond The Mat, a largely superficial examination of professional wrestling and its lesser tributaries. Directed in distracting first-person style by longtime Eddie Murphy comedy writer Barry Blaustein, the film is ostensibly a behind-the-scenes look at America's most popular "fake" sport, but it rarely sees past the artifice. A cannier documentarian might have uncovered more by keeping the camera trained on a subject for an extended period of time, but Blaustein, a professed fan, is too content to allow everyone to spin their own stories. Because that's basically what pro wrestlers do for a living, they're more than up to the task. Diffuse in its interests, Beyond The Mat follows several threads, from Vince McMahon's billion-dollar WWF empire to its depressing shadow-world of county fairgrounds and dank backrooms. Blaustein's running theme—that the crazed persona of wrestlers inside the ring isn't consistent with the gentle giants outside of it—suits his three main subjects, each at various stages of their careers. Though all stars at some point, the most financially prosperous is Mick Foley (a.k.a. "Mankind"), a sensitive family man who tries, with little success, to assure his two young children that he's unhurt by the incredible beatings he withstands for show. The sport's physical hardships also take a toll on Terry Funk, an aging legend who continues to wrestle despite the decomposing bones in his knees, and Jake "The Snake" Roberts, a lithe performer who used drugs to combat the day-to-day pain and wound up addicted to crack. Had Blaustein settled on any one of these men, rather than casting his net across such a vast industry, Beyond The Mat might have shed new light on wrestling's garish theater of the absurd. As it is, it amounts to little more than a cursory gloss.