Documentaries come in every shape, size, or form. They can be about any person, place, issue, or topic under the sun. Case in point: “You Cannot Kill David Arquette”, an unusual film telling an unusual story about an unusual man. It comes from co-directors David Darg and Price James and highlights the once starbound Arquette’s journey to regain respect, not in Hollywood, but in the world of professional wrestling.
A little backstory. David Arquette once seemed destined for superstardom. He was considered among the biggest rising stars, even appearing on a 1996 Vanity Fair cover with the likes of Matthew McConaughey, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Will Smith (in fairness it also featured Skeet Ulrich). Also in 1996 Arquette was cast in Wes Craven’s slasher film “Scream” playing the good-hearted but dim-witted Deputy Dewey. It would become his most recognized role, but it also led to him being typecast and his career never took off as expected.
Jump ahead to the year 2000. While doing publicity for his new film “Ready to Rumble”, Arquette partnered with World Championship Wrestling. In the ill-advised cross-promotion it was decided that Arquette would actually win the esteemed WCW Heavyweight Title. The storyline enraged wrestling fans who felt it cheapened the title. Much of the outrage fell on Arquette, a true wrestling fan who loved the business but was quickly considered persona non grata in the wrestling world.
“You Cannot Kill David Arquette” finds its subject lost in the cracks of Hollywood and wrestling, two forms of entertainment he loves, neither of which takes him seriously. “I’m sick of being a joke,” he laments. In one sense it’s hard to feel bad for Arquette. He has a beautiful family and a swanky California home. And while he talks about his promising acting career turning into “ten years of rejection“, a quick gander at his IMDB page shows that’s not entirely true. In reality he has been steadily working, just not in caliber of movies he would like.
On the other hand, we can’t help but sympathize once the film digs into more personal soil. Darg and James put their camera on Arquette and allow him and his family to reveal anything they want about the actor/wrestler’s rollercoaster journey. We learn of depression, anxiety, and self-destructive hard living. At one point Arquette describes himself as a “functioning alcoholic”. Then he has an epiphany of sorts. Despite his physical and psychological problems, Arquette decides to get back into wrestling, starting at the bottom and working his way up in an effort to win over the fans who have shunned him. “I don’t care about being a champ. I care about respect.”
The majority of the documentary follows Arquette’s quest to rid himself of the undeserved shame and earn the respect of the die-hard wrestling community. Not the smartest move for a 46-year-old out of shape guy with health concerns, but admirable and inspiring in its own weird way. It’s not an easy journey. Arquette starts by doing backyard matches in makeshift rings where he’s slammed on thumbtacks and has fluorescent light bulbs shattered across his back. He works his way up to the independent wrestling circuit where he begins to get back in shape. He even travels to Tijuana to train with luchadors.
Some of what we see is fun, even exciting and you can’t help but root for the underdog. Other scenes are uncomfortable to watch, most notably a brutally violent and bloody “death match” against a wrestler named Nicolas Gage that ends in a near life-threatening injury. It leaves you questioning whether the potential sense of accomplishment and purpose Arquette hopes to gain is worth the ultimate cost. The film wants us to wrestle with that quandary even though Arquette doesn’t. He’s resolute and unwavering in his goal.
Along the way we get welcomed perspectives from David’s family including his wife Christina, sisters Patricia and Rosanna, and his ex-wife Courtney Cox. We even get a brief yet touching scene with the late Luke Perry (blink and you may miss it). We also get insight from several recognizable faces from within the professional wrestling sphere including Ric Flair, Jerry “The King” Lawler, and Diamond Dallas Page. All of these contributions are invaluable and they add points-of-view that helps ground the film (something it really needs from time to time).
It may be tempting to view the entire movie as nothing more than a vanity project. Certainly there are elements of that which are hard to get around. But reducing it to such a linear reading means missing its biggest strengths. As cliché as it may sound, “You Cannot Kill David Arquette” is a documentary of self-discovery. It’s about a broken, wayward man-child longing for acceptance and a sense of self-worth. In one of the more subtly sad details, the only way he feels he can get it is to re-enter an industry that views him with bitter contempt. Yes, there are scenes in the doc where it looks like Arquette is putting on a show. And who knows, maybe the whole thing is a ruse. But his pain and yearning feel deeply personal and they set him on a journey that is silly, heartbreaking, endearing, and violent, often all at the same time. “You Cannot Kill David Arquette” is streaming now on VOD.
VERDICT – 3.5 STARS