Friday 27 November 2020

Fall time: "You Cannot Kill David Arquette"

An early montage in You Cannot Kill David Arquette steers us through one of the least auspicious career moves in recent Hollywood history. In the late Nineties, David Arquette - brother of Alexis, Patricia, Richmond and Rosanna - was among the fresher faces in an ebullient indie scene that was beginning to cross over commercially. His most prominent role was that of Dewey Riley, the sweetly timid deputy sheriff in Wes Craven's original Scream trilogy, but he went straight from that highpoint to leading-man duties in 2000's Ready to Rumble, a dumb-as-nuts Warner Bros. comedy attempting to cash in on renewed teenage interest in professional wrestling. As part of his promotional duties for that movie, Arquette entered the world of the WCW for real, in as much as anything to do with the WCW is real, and swiftly found himself being appointed heavyweight champion. Devotees of the sport hated it - the documentary opens with a string of YouTubers lamenting the fact this arriviste had been promoted ahead of more seasoned grapplers - and this diversion into wrestling also stymied Arquette's acting career, lending him the look of a faker, a goofball, someone who wasn't nearly as serious as those with whom he shared a defining 1996 Vanity Fair cover (DiCaprio! McConaughey! Stephen Dorff!). Now with wives one and two (Courteney Cox and Christina McLarty Arquette), his kids, and his illustrious sisters looking on nervously from the sidelines, Arquette has made a comeback on the amateur wrestling circuit, repositioning himself as a non-fiction analogue to Mickey Rourke's character in The Wrestler. Once again, we watch wrestling becoming a venue for self-abasement and self-flagellation: Arquette's first beatdown - and it is a beatdown - comes in a backyard ring we see collapsing under the weight of two undercard fighters, its tattered ropes displaying all the give of barbed wire.

Directors David Darg and Price James have stumbled onto a good story here, though story may be all this is, in the end. Very early on, we become aware You Cannot Kill David Arquette is really only a documentary in the same way Keeping Up with the Kardashians purports to be documentary; once again, we spy the creeping influence of reality television - of showbiz construction - on theatrical non-fiction. (My suspicion is that at least a couple of the parties involved are angling for a spin-off series: At Home with the Arquettes.) Somewhere in the distant background here, there's a cautionary tale about what it means to be an overgrown child, in a town which rewards people handsomely for behaving like overgrown children, and what happens when those people seek to regain an attention they've lost overnight. What's upfront, however, is fan fiction: far less penetrating, and limited by self-evidently low stakes. Unlike the Rourke character, this wrestler returns home not to some dilapidated trailer park, but a spacious L.A. residence with adjacent ranch, to be greeted by an adoring spouse and three bright-eyed kids. (And we must assume said wife is fine raising those kids while her other half is off playing out his Macho Man Randy Savage fantasies.) Arquette remains a genial soul, happily flaunting his battered dadbod, and sportingly reentering the ring billed as a "Hollywood magic man" (tossing limp fistfuls of glitter as he goes); he's clearly here to pay some belated dues - to give up the blood, sweat and tears other wrestlers have had to sacrifice in order to earn their belts - and you can see why the movies haven't given up on him for good. If You Cannot Kill David Arquette never quite throws off an air of inessential thespian indulgence, it emerges as a far sweeter, more heartfelt project than Ready to Rumble ever was: a low bar, undeniably, but I'm guessing those wrestling fans are going to be happier this time around.

You Cannot Kill David Arquette is now available to rent via Prime Video and Curzon Home Cinema.

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