Review by Ed Nguyen
Mark Zupan, Joe Soares, Keith Cavill, Scott Hogsett, Andy Cohn, Bob Lujano
Directors: Henry Alex Rubin, Dana Adam Shapiro
Audio: English Dolby Digital surround 5.1 or stereo 2.0
Video: Color, widescreen
Features: Two commentaries, Larry King interview, Jackass segment, Murderball: Behind the Game featurette, Joe Soares interview, deleted scenes, New York premiere, web-link, trailers
Length: 86 minutes
Release Date: November 29, 2005
gone up to people and start talking sh*t...and I go, what, you're not going to
hit a kid in a chair? F**king hit
me. I'll hit you back!"
Is it a feel-good sport documentary about how foul-mouthed yet
demonstrably passionate young men refuse to allow their physical handicaps
define their goal (of knocking each other senseless out of their wheelchairs)?
Is it an inspirational tale about optimistic quadriplegics who find the
means to surmount their disabilities in their drive to excel (at crashing into
each other at breakneck speeds)? Is
it some mutated form of full-contact sport involving crushing metal parts and
wildly flailing body parts?
yes it is. To all of the above.
If this offends any politically-oriented readers among us, need I remind
you that the name of this documentary and its sport is murderball,
so you'll get no sympathy from me (and doubtless none from the sport's fanatic
athletes, either). Check out Winged Migration or March of
the Penguins instead; those are the family-friendly documentaries for you!
rugby was developed in Canada, where it affectionately earned the nickname
right, blame Canada! But before you
start wondering how a quadriplegic is capable of playing a full-contact sport,
the documentary quickly clarifies that being a quadriplegic simply means
impairment, not necessarily total paralysis, of the four limbs.
The jocks who participate in quad rugby are quite talented at this
frequently rather violent sport. They
play without helmets, either, mind you.
Murderball's athletes, with their
sheer courage and gusto, make mere lowlifes such as myself appear like gutless
wimps whenever we whine over a simple paper cut.
these players all fervidly demand to be treated like ordinary guys.
Okay, so as one ordinary guy to a bunch of other guys, I have to say,
you're all nuts! Then again, most
sport fanatics are, so what else is new? Auto
freaks like to lavish excessive amounts of time, money, and effort upon their
cars. Is it any more surprising
then that the Murderball gang devotes much effort in transforming their
wheelchairs into chaotic chariots of doom and destruction?
to be perfectly honest, quad rugby looks like a lot of fun!
There's just something viscerally satisfying about smashing one's
opponent down in a virtual gladiator-style demolition derby.
As one Murderball player describes it, "Basically, it's kill the man
with the ball."
look at some of the world-class members of Team USA, long a dominant force in
the world of quadriplegic rugby. There's
upbeat but lovable loser Andy Cohn, and there's the lady's man Scott Hogsett.
Don't overlook short-limbed but big-hearted Bob Lujano, survivor of a bad
case of childhood meningococcal meningitis.
And no one can possibly ignore the trash-talking, gutter-mouthed Mark
Zupan, the goatee guru of Murderball?
Did I mention this scary dude is tattooed, as well?
In a parallel storyline, Murderball
also follows the progress of Keith Cavill, a recent quadriplegic with a
fascination for anything with wheels. After
one meeting with Zupan and his battering ram of a wheelchair, Keith's eyes
literally light up, and we perceive what the future surely will hold in store
then, there's the villain, Joe Soares, a former U.S. quad rugby champ.
Sadly, this sports legend is now aging and frustrated.
Hardly content with merely fading away, Soares craves ever more glory.
In fact, in betrayal of team and country, Soares has jumped ship to coach
Team Canada, and this scheming Benedict Arnold wants nothing better than to
crush the spines of his former teammates. Not
just crush, but grind into sawdust.
Maybe run over them a few times, too.
With extreme prejudice. Hey,
what are egomaniacal villains for, after all?
In Murderball, we can
practically see Soares foaming at the mouth with steam gushing out of his ears.
Don't go yakking political correctness to this turncoat, or he'll just
bite your ear off and spit it out. The
best thing is that Soares is definitely not a caricature but a real person!
We can always use more of these intensely off-kilter yet wildly
entertaining sports personalities!
the bruising gameday personalities, off-court these athletes are fairly decent
role models. Well, maybe Coach
Soares still remains about as cuddly as Bill Parcells or Bobby Knight, but all
these athletes (Soares included) have their loving and supportive family
environments. Each functions quite
well in the daily routines of life, in everything from doing the dishes, hosting
barbeque parties, and even driving cars. And
yes, Murderball also addresses the
burning question over how a quadriplegic, shall we say, "expresses physical
intimacy" with his specific other.
alternates between glimpses into the personal lives of these men and flashes of
spirited training and the actual games themselves.
Being a sports documentary, the film culminates at that golden mecca of
sporting events, the 2004 Paralympics in Athens, Greece.
However, the eventual outcome in Athens is actually irrelevant.
Of greater significance is the physical and emotional path that these men
have traveled through the course of their unwavering perseverance to arrive in
Athens in the first place. As
Robert Browning so eloquently muses, "Ah, but a man's reach should exceed
his grasp, or what's a heaven for?"
the box office, this film undeservedly tanked, although the reasons are quite
obvious. It's a tough sell.
Suppose, for instance, that I am a typical suburban dad with two young
kids. For some reason, I decide to
take them to see a documentary. I
could take my kids to see an R-rated film called Murderball
with foul-mouthed, intimidating jocks participating in a violent full-contact
sport. Or, I could take my kids to
see fuzzy, cute little baby penguins in The
March of the Penguins. Is this
a no-brainer or what?
suppose I'm an average woman. I
merely notice the word "murder" in the title, and already the
discussion's over. Case closed.
Most women are as likely to voluntarily see this film as most men are to
see The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.
suppose I'm just an Average Guy then. Let's
be perfectly frank here, shall we? Would I choose to see a documentary in the movie theater
about quadriplegics, or would I rather see something with obnoxiously loud car
chases and CG-aliens invading the world?
problem is not that Murderball is a
bad film. On the contrary, it is a
very decent documentary filled with everything you would expect from a sports
documentary, from the heartbreak of defeat to the catharsis of triumph and
redemption. Even better, the
stories behind the players are ultimately more involving than the perfunctory
snippets shown of the games themselves. But,
the name "Murderball" conjures up images of a bad roller derby movie,
which conjures up images of really bad 70's movies with horrendously bad disco
music. So, the film has serious
marketing issues, the least of which is its consumer-unfriendly title, and Murderball's
lack of an adequately informed publicity campaign consequently sealed its fate
at the box office.
again, who cares? Certainly not the
Zubans and Soares of this film. They
want respect, not insincere sympathy and bleeding hearts.
This film isn't some happy family Merrily
Rolling Along sing-along, it's Murderball! So box office be damned, you have to respect these athletes
for sticking to their principles! Go
see them in this film because you're genuinely
interested; otherwise, stick with the fluffy penguins.
has a mildly grainy appearance but is otherwise offered in a clean and pristine
print. Lighting is unremarkable, so
the images are not always "cinematic" in appearance, but that is par
for most documentaries.
might assume that a film such as this one would have subtitles.
Sorry, guess again. But I
most documentaries, Murderball uses
mostly live sound, so the echoes and background noise are normal.
Dialogue is sometimes distorted or not clearly audible, but such befits
the usual cacophonic setting of any sports arena.
Audio options are for Dolby Digital surround 5.1 or stereo 2.0.
are two commentary tracks. One is
provided by producer Jeff Mandel and directors Henry Alex Rubin and Dana Adam
Shapiro. It is cordial,
informative, and respectfully polite. Was
that a stifled yawn there? Okay,
perhaps the player commentary, with Mark Zupan, Scott Hogsett, and Andy Cohn
will be more your cup of tea. It is
wickedly rude, off-the-wall, and definitely lewd.
It's frankly also a lot more fun.
is a Larry King interview (39 min.) with Mark Zupan, Scott Hogsett, Andy Cohn,
Keith Cavill, and Bob Lujano. The
quad rugby players briefly discuss their accidents and how quad rugby has helped
them and changed their lives. The
interview also offers a question-and-answer session at the end with telephone
call-ins. This is a solid interview
session, although most of what is here can already be found in the documentary
so for the Jackass interview.
This segment is twenty-one minutes of shocking depravity, pure
immorality, and crude vulgarity. In
other words, it should appeal perfectly to the MTV generation (after all, Jackass
is one of the music channel's more popular shows). What do we get here? Well,
there are black-eye punches being thrown, cattle prod jousting in wheelchairs,
and wheelchairs (with occupants!) being launched from raised stages and over
swimming pools. Oh, did I forget to
mention the ex-marine male exotic dancer? Throw another cattle prod into the scene there and, well, you
get the picture. For audience
members who prefer the fairer sex, there are chicks slipping each other the
tongue and flashing the camera and the Murderball
gang, too. Somewhere among all this
sheer anarchy, there are clips from the documentary as well as informal chats
with the likes of Zupan and Hogsett.
parents would have heart attacks knowing that their "little angels"
are watching all this carnality and highly digging it.
My advice? Parents, cover
your eyes and leave the room! Kids, you can watch the mayhem, although you'll have to
accept MTV's censoring of some of the saucier details or more colorful language.
Joe Soares interview (10 min.) provides the gruff ex-champ an opportunity to
address some frequently asked questions, including why he wanted to coach the
Canadians. Blame Canada.
Soares also gives an update into his life and career after Murderball.
He's really not that bad a guy. Really.
You believe me, right?
featurette Murderball: Behind the Game
(18 min.) offers more interviews with the participants from the film, including
Joe Soares and Mark Zupan. We learn
about events which have transpired since the release of Murderball, although this featurette essentially repeats information
gleamed elsewhere from the documentary or the other bonus features.
are seven minutes of deleted scenes. These
are comprised of a food fight, a softball game, a baking scene, a wheelchair
sprint by Joe Soares, a weird frog scene, and a really surreal doo
wop session with dancing nurses.
in a quick glimpse at the film's New York premiere (2 min.), we get to see
Keith's reaction after receiving his coveted quad rugby chair.
There are also trailers for The
Aristocrats and Born into Brothels and a web-link for THINK MTV Disability