YOU CANNOT KILL
You Cannot Kill David Arquette, produced by David Arquette himself, is a vanity piece through and through that bends the rules of what constitutes as a documentary. The real-life narrative of a man wanting to relive the glory days is instead framed as a redemption story of an underdog who not only wants to go back into wrestling, but wants to go in the right way. There are scenes that feel extremely staged and elements of personal conflict that are only given lip service, but with its sharp editing and attention to story beats, this documentary molds itself into a satisfying viewing experience despite the unhealthy dose of narcissism.
Back in 2000, then actor David Arquette made appearances in the World Championship Wrestling (which is abbreviated WCW frequently in the film and my young mind kept thinking it was a different thing) to promote the WCW film Ready to Rumble. He was written into the WCW storyline (Yes, wrestling has stories. It’s a whole thing, apparently) and, through what seemed to have been a series of misunderstandings and getting caught up in the moment, David Arquette ended up winning the championship belt when he, a guest star of the season, should have lost. This was met with backlash from wrestling fans on a similar scale to, from what I gathered from the film’s portrayal of the situation, Star Wars fans and The Last Jedi.
[peeks up from laptop]
No one’s going to throw a chair at me? I can move on? Cool.
Fast forward to 2018, David Arquette is a man stuck in a rut and down on luck. He’s an alcoholic, can’t land any acting jobs, and I guess regularly attends strip clubs despite being a married man with kids (classic dad stuff). We follow along on his journey of getting back into wrestling. Real wrestling. Complete with a totally real training montage, a backyard brawl, and nearly dying from a death match at the low point of the story before the climax, but ultimately succeeding in his goals by the end.
Basically, if you’ve seen Rocky, you know what to expect. The problem is, this film tries too hard to actually be like Rocky to the point, though emotionally engaging, it detracts from the feeling of watching a documentary. Truth may be stranger than fiction, but there are plenty of scenes and shots that feel entirely staged just like fiction. For example, there is a shot that kicks off the training montage where the unnamed guy talking to David opens the van door, pauses for a second, glances at the camera, then turns to David before saying his line. And that’s not to mention the scene where Arquette and a group yell in a desert sunset. Totally have never seen that in a film before.
Throughout its 90-minute runtime, the film tries to make David seem like a sad, lost puppy we should empathize with and root for, but it’s moments like seeing him in a strip club, David’s out-of-touch-with-reality personality, and the very brief mention of problems with his marriage that pushed me away from from sympathizing with David. Though these elements may more-or-less work in a narrative film, this is a documentary claiming to be a real story with real people. And knowing this is “real”, it’s hard to stomach some of David’s actions (doubly so if you’ve had the unfortunate circumstances of dealing with narcissists).
The root of the problem of the documentary is the intention behind it. The film does what it sets out to do, crafting a redemption story for David Arquette and expertly editing the footage in a very engaging manner (seriously, the editing is really good). However, it does so by ignoring the problems that surround a person like David Arquette: the rocky marriage, the insane levels he goes through to prove himself, and the basic fact that he’s on a quest for a redemption arc when this is real life, not a movie. Instead of critiquing Arquette’s behavior, it encourages it to the point I have to question how much did the filmmaker’s stage and how much did Arquette himself stage to set the mood? Arquette himself is, after all, a producer on the project.
This is a wrestling documentary about as real as wrestling itself. What you see on camera actually happened, but it all feels coordinated for your entertainment and blurs the line between documentary and narrative films. However, this is still a satisfying viewing experience. As I mentioned in the beginning, this film hits all the beats of an underdog story, and we as people love underdog stories.
But David Arquette producing a documentary to win the hearts of audiences? I’m sorry. It’s just not my tub of popcorn.