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With: Vince McMahon, Terry Funk, Mick Foley, Chyna, Jake Roberts, Jesse Ventura, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Barry W. Blaustein
Written by: Barry W. Blaustein
Directed by: Barry W. Blaustein
MPAA Rating: R for language and violent content
Running Time: 102
Date: 10/22/1999

Beyond the Mat (1999)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Pin-Win Situation

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

I don't know the first thing about professional wrestling. I've seen bits of it on television, and I'm one of those people who simply states, "It's all fake!" and moves on to another topic. But I'm happy to report that Barry Blaustein's new documentary Beyond the Mat is a very good film that both wrestling fans and non-wrestling fans will enjoy.

Beyond the Mat isn't on for five minutes before it addresses the "fake" issue. Of course it's faked, the movie tells us. That's not the point. Wrestling is more like the lowest, most violent form of theater. And in 90 minutes, Blaustein explores as many aspects of wrestling as he can.

Blaustein takes us into the amateur ring, a wrestling school based in Hayward. Two of these amateurs may have the right stuff for the big time. We also visit the offices of Vince McMahon, who runs the entire World Wrestling Federation empire. We touch a little upon the extra-violent ECW league. We meet five wrestlers who couldn't be more different if they were characters written on a page: Mick Foley (aka "Mankind"), Jake "the Snake" Roberts, Terry Funk, The Rock, and Chyna. We're also introduced to a new wrestler named Puke who, apparently, can regurgitate on command. But the bulk of the movie focuses on Foley, Roberts, and Funk.

I haven't spent much of my life trying to imagine what wrestlers are like in real life, but if I had, I still would have been surprised by Beyond the Mat. Roberts admits that he does drugs--that he had to in order to keep up with wrestling's demanding schedule. We visit his father with whom he has a shaky relationship at best, and then we see him with his own daughter. The cycle repeats itself. Funk is 50 years old and can't seem to make retirement stick, despite the fact that doctors tell him that his knees will not last much longer. But Foley is a loving father with a charming wife and two kids (he has the most adorable little girl this side of Hallie Kate Eisenberg). The movie's most powerful scene is when Foley gets into the ring with the Rock and gets beaten about the head with a chair. We see the Foley family on the sidelines wincing and crying at every impact. Blaustein then breaks journalistic code by showing Foley the footage. Foley has since retired from pro wrestling.

A different, funnier scene could have been written as fiction if it weren't so absurd. A black wrestler, New Jack, hits it off with Blaustein and comes to L.A. to do a screen test. The clueless casting agents immediately start talking in 20 year old, "he could be the next Denzel, or better yet, Denzel's sidekick!"

Part of the fun of the movie is that Blaustein himself considers wrestling a guilty pleasure. He truly feels guilty about it. He includes a clip from Woody Allen's great Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) with intellectual painter Max von Sydow asking Barbara Hershey, "Can you imagine the level of a mind that watches wrestling?" Before I laughed at that line. Now, I still don't think I would watch wrestling, but I will no longer scoff at those who do.

DVD Details:Beyond the Mat now comes to DVD in Blaustein's long-awaited "director's cut." It also comes with a commentary track by Blaustein and Funk, plus two featurettes starring Blaustein and the wrestlers.

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