Beyond The Mat

on October 22, 1999 by Annlee Ellingson
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An attempt to humanize a profession that relies on garish performances, director Barry Blaustein's "Beyond the Mat" thoroughly evaluates the non-sport from a fan's point of view, tracking down the heroes from his boyhood and profiling one of the hottest stars in the industry today.
Jake the Snake (Jack Roberts) may be one of the best-known wrestlers of all time, thrilling audiences with his shenanigans with his pet/prop snake. Today, however, he's relegated to performing at makeshift house shows--non-televised performances before paltry crowds often in school gymnasiums or community centers--and hopes to rekindle a relationship with his estranged daughter. His ongoing drug addiction, though not explicitly shown, is definitely implied.
Terry Funk, famous for his brutal hardcore matches, still competes today, though his doctor informs him that the cartilage in one of his knees has completely dissolved. During his supposedly final match (he's had several), his wife and recently wed daughter watch in horror.
But the most engaging character here is Mankind (Mick Foley), a World Wrestling Federation (WWF) superstar who's admired for his ability to take a good beating. After the show, though, he's a loving, caring family man with a beautiful wife and two impressionable young children. The most gripping and horrifying scene in the film is a pay-per-view match with the Rock, in which a handcuffed Mankind takes repeated chair shots while his traumatized family sits ringside.
"Beyond the Mat's" greatest asset is its rare behind-the-scenes footage. Current fans will delight in seeing superstars the Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin out of character, just being regular guys backstage. Likewise, WWF owner Vince McMahon's brainstorming sessions in creating a new character are fascinating.
But despite Blaustein's backstage access to his empire, one gets the feeling that McMahon himself is still acting throughout, playing the brilliant entrepreneur (which no one is denying he is) in contrast to the heel he normally portrays at show time. And while the filmmakers were also allowed access to Extreme Championship Wrestling, from which McMahon harvests many of new wrestlers, WWF rival World Championship Wrestling (WCW) apparently chose not to participate.
Additiona lly, "Beyond the Mat" has quickly become outdated and was already when it had its one-week Oscar qualifying run before the end of last year. Droz (Darren Drozdov), a character McMahon was grooming at the time of the film shoot, has since been paralyzed in a freak work-related accident; Foley has discarded his Mankind accouterments to resurrect Cactus Jack; and Funk has come out of pseudo-retirement to wrestle in the WCW.
Still, "Beyond the Match" is fun for the fans who scour the Internet for the latest gossip and rumors, and perhaps even a little enlightening for non-fans who have historically dismissed wrestling as white-trash entertainment. Starring Mick Foley, Terry Funk and Jack Roberts. Directed and written by Barry Blaustein. Produced by Ron Howard and Brian Grazer. A Lions Gate release. Documentary. Rated R for language and violent content. Running time: 102 min.
Tags: Starring Mick Foley, Terry Funk and Jack Roberts. Directed and written by Barry Blaustein, Produced by Ron Howard, Brian Grazer, Documentary
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