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BEYOND THE MAT

This documentary by Barry Blaustein is like a love letter to
professional wrestling, and particularly to Vince McMahon and
the World Wrestling Federation. Soft, repetitive to a fault,
and narrated by its maker in tones of wistful awe that seem
totally inappropriate to its subject, “Beyond the Mat” tells
very little that’s consequential and not much we didn’t already
know, apart from the fact that Mr. Blaustein, a comedy writer
who’s worked for “Saturday Night Live” and co-scripted several
Eddie Murphy films, looks upon the “sport” that’s entranced
him since childhood without a hint of ironic detachment. That’s
pretty amazing, given the awful press the WWF has received of
late.

The picture is structured as a tale of three wrestlers–
retiring veteran Terry Funk, exhuberant family man Mick Foley,
and tormented over-the-hill legend Jake Roberts. Footage of
the three, and interviews with them, are intercut throughout,
and Blaustein tries to piece it all together in a vague
chronological scheme, with the bits linked by his adoring
narration. The wrestlers seem like interesting characters:
Funk resembles a good-natured version of Pat Buchanan and
Foley a chubbier, bearded version of Richard Masur (whose
voice he even shares), while Roberts, a crack addict troubled
by his strained family ties, exudes a remarkable mixture of
pride and self-loathing. All are (perhaps surprisingly)
articulate fellows, and the picture certainly humanizes them.

But Blaustein’s treatment never goes much beyond the obvious,
and his portrayal of the business itself has all the earmarks
of an “approved” recitation. “Beyond the Mat” also needs
stronger editing than that provided by Jeff Werner, who allows
many sequences to ramble on far too long and failed to impose
impose a guiding thread on the episodic material.

“Beyond the Mat” was clearly a labor of love for Blaustein, but
it’s unlikely many viewers will respond to it with similar
affection.