Dir: David Darg and Price James. Featuring: David Arquette, Patricia Arquette, Rosanna Arquette, Richmond Arquette, Courteney Cox, Ric Flair, Mick Foley. 15, 91 mins.
In 2000, David Arquette, star of Scream and Never Been Kissed, stepped into the wrestling ring. It was an extravagant bit of Hollywood engineering – the actor had been in the middle of promoting Ready to Rumble, a comedy about wrestling superfans that’s as foul as it is forgettable, when someone had the idea to temporarily enlist him into World Championship Wrestling.
The image of a skinny, young dude in vinyl trousers enthusiastically flinging himself at a modern-day Hercules had its dorky appeal. But the joke turned sour as soon as it was decided that Arquette would be crowned WCW Heavyweight Champion. Fans had never experienced such a betrayal, not only of wrestling’s integrity, but of its own carefully constructed reality. Arquette, a lifelong fan of the sport, was now its most viciously rebuked pariah.
You Cannot Kill David Arquette, a new documentary directed by David Darg and Price James, follows the actor in his long-delayed request for redemption. It’s as entertaining, and knowingly histrionic, as the art of wrestling itself – a luring mess of blood, sweat, tears, and fractured ribs. Arquette, now aged 46, his body a constellation of shakily drawn tattoos, is far more earnest now than the glitzed-out braggart who taunted WCW audiences two decades ago. He’s gotten sober, suffered a heart attack – there are now stents and blood-thinning medications to keep things in check. He’s being treated for his anxiety and depression. It’s time to make peace with the demons. And, for the actor, that means repairing his relationship with wrestling by re-entering its orbit – this time, with a commitment to giving it his fullest respect.
Darg, James, and Arquette weave a persuasive underdog narrative from what comes next. He starts out a laughing stock, struggles, overcomes, and ends up on top. But it feels like it’s as much of a carefully constructed fantasy as what goes on in the ring – a ritual, a dance. Arquette claims, rather despairingly that, “I’ve been auditioning for 10 years without getting anything”. No one thinks to mention that he’s been working steadily all this time, with a notable appearance in 2015’s Bone Tomahawk, and a returning role in the upcoming Scream sequel.
It doesn’t fit the image of a lonely, dishevelled man, whose first match back is on a half-collapsed ring in someone’s yard, where he’s swiftly beaten to a pulp by a squeaky-voiced teen. It doesn’t fit the endless parade of confused, despairing looks – from his daughter, Coco, his ex-wife Courteney Cox, his sister Patricia and Rosanna, or the luchadores in Tijuana who agree to train him. Arquette seems game to embrace the absurdity of his situation: at one point, he sits in a bedazzled magician’s cloak, vaping, on a horse, and declares with all sincerity: “I’m just kind of sick of being a joke, to be honest with you. If you’re a part of the joke, it’s not as painful as if you are the joke.”
The film commits to an in-depth, precursory psychological profile – there’s mention of a childhood occupied both by imagination and abuse – but all that’s really needed to understand Arquette’s motivations are the words of his brother, Richmond: “David wants love”. He’s so hungry for it that he’ll take any amount of blows and cuts in its pursuit. For all its bravado and mystique, what’s most striking about You Cannot Kill David Arquette are these simple truths.
Blue Finch Film Releasing presents You Cannot Kill David Arquette on Digital Download 23 November