Most people know David Arquette from his role as the bumbling cop Dewey in the slasher franchise Scream, or for playing Drew Barrymore’s slacker brother in Never Been Kissed, but there are a select few to whom the actor will always be responsible for “ruining” professional wrestling. Back in the year 2000, while promoting a movie called Ready to Rumble that, to add insult to injury, was widely panned upon release, Arquette was ignominiously crowned WCW World Heavyweight Champion. It’s a moment many fans still consider the worst in the sport’s history (even more insulting than the infamous “Montreal Screwjob,” which is quite a feat).
Now comes You Cannot Kill David Arquette, a lively and surprisingly moving documentary following Arquette as he ostensibly prepares to make his unwelcome return to a world he’s loved since he was a kid but that vehemently hated him in return. The question of whether this is all a work (wrestling slang for something that happens in storyline, rather than for real) looms large, but those without any prior knowledge of, or indeed interest in, the sport may well take it at face value. Happily, the doc hits just as hard either way, even if a cursory glance at Arquette’s IMDb page confirms he hasn’t actually been out of work the past decade, for instance, as the the film suggests.
What rings true in Arquette’s performance, if indeed that’s what it is, is the actor’s genuine love for pro-wrestling. Even in the footage from his WCW days, where a baby-faced Arquette is booed by what sounds like every single person in the arena, he looks completely elated to be in the ring. This dream of his, to wrestle for real and be taken seriously as a competitor, is genuine — even if the camera crew might make it seem less than that. Interviews with family and friends solidify how nuts Arquette is to take such a risk at his age (he was nearing 50 at the time he began training) while several doctors warn him against doing it. Everyone you’d expect to see from his orbit makes an appearance to voice their concern, including sisters Rosanna and Patricia Arquette, wife and producer Christina McLarty Arquette and even his ex-wife and Scream co-star Courtney Cox.
All the while, angry marks (i.e. super-fans) are only too happy to tell the cameras how Arquette “ruined” wrestling, never mind the fact WCW sucked in the first place and, er, it was 20 years ago at this stage, guys. Also, just to be clear, celebrities like Stephen Amell and none other than Donald Trump himself have made more of a mockery of the sport than Arquette ever could, simply by showing up to promote themselves while taking half-assed bumps from actual pros whose precious time they’re greedily soaking up just by being there. Arquette may have been a celebrity with no real business in the ring, but he is a lifelong fan who just wanted a shot at doing something he always thought was coo. Arquette wasn’t making fun of wrestling, he genuinely wanted to be part of it.
More by Joey Keogh: Fantasia 2020 Review: Natasha Kermani’s ‘Lucky’
Arquette’s journey takes him to the backwoods of small-town America, where a group of super-serious backyarders with a terrifying makeshift ring and absolutely no fear of injury or dismemberment put him through his paces, and Mexico, where — after a hilariously staged meeting with the legendary “Diamond” Dallas Page (who’s doing yoga on a mat branded for his company, DDP Yoga) — the actor takes up with a rag-tag bunch of Luchadores who give him a crash course in, among other things, wrestling on the street for the entertainment of people stuck in traffic (an enormously clever idea, to their credit). It’s here that Arquette finds his footing in the wrestling world, even earning his own mask after completing his sojourn (a considerable honor).
There are plenty of unflattering shots of the actor, who’s starting to look a bit like *NSYNC star Joey Fatone now that he’s reached middle age, spilling out of his tighty-whities as he wheezes after a training session. Slowly but surely, however, Arquette loses the weight, quits smoking and drinking (there are hints that he has an issue with alcohol) and commits to making his dream come true, which powers You Cannot Kill David Arquette through some of its darker moments, including when the actor is relegated to a hospital bed, messed up on ketamine and begging to be let free.
There are several times when the documentary verges on the desperately sad, particularly when Patricia Arquette reveals her brother suffered a heart attack that the public didn’t know about. Clearly, David is battling some demons, and there’s heavy suggestion of a missed childhood too, compounded by a shot of him sitting in a comically oversized chair, sadly strumming a ukulele. You Cannot Kill David Arquette is a real-life underdog story, and co-directors David Darg and Price James shoot it with a kind of mythic energy that blurs the lines between fact and fiction, as when a bar brawl erupts and the camera goes sideways, or in the over-the-top wrestling promo that opens the movie and is later revealed to be fake.
Although it’s surprising to learn that Arquette has had it so tough, he’s such a lovable character that following his journey would be delightful even if he simply wanted to prove himself to the fans who carry a grudge against him all these years later. As an entertainer — whether acting, wrestling or even puppeteering (a skill Arquette learned from his father and still practises today)– all the Scream star wants is to be respected and taken seriously. He isn’t ashamed of where he’s come from either, with a Ghostface mask proudly emblazoned on his wrestling tights.
It’s worth noting, too, that Arquette’s goal isn’t to get to the WWE and fight John Cena or whoever. The doc shines a spotlight on indy wrestling thanks to the actor competing predominantly in smaller, and by extension far more technical and dangerous, bouts, which means getting to meet several interesting characters along the way, including a helpful opponent, RJ City, who assists Arquette with a play-by-play for their match, and Tyler Bateman, who trains him in the actor’s at-home ring. Bigger talking heads feature, including Ric Flair, but Darg and James don’t rely on them since this is Arquette’s story first and foremost (and their loyalty to wrestling means they can’t go against the powers that be to support him, regardless).
More by Joey Keogh: Fantasia 2020 Review: Adam Rehmeier’s ‘Dinner in America’
By the time Arquette finally gets in the ring and has everybody cheering for him, viewers may be truly rooting for him to succeed. There’s a moment involving a so-called death-match that wrestling fans will be aware of, but will come as a shock to most other viewers, which serves as a sharp reminder of how real the sport actually gets. It’s a frightening, gruesome sequence captured with clarity and without even a hint of sensationalism, but the crux of the documentary is about Arquette’s triumph over a decades-old setback in his career, and — with any luck — that will be the focus of any deserved buzz surrounding it.
Even for those who haven’t a clue why someone like Arquette would choose to get in the ring and put himself in unnecessary danger, You Cannot Kill David Arquette is an incredibly moving and life-affirming lesson in following your dreams at all costs. Whether it’s 100 percent factually accurate is of little consequence because Arquette really is this lovable, and wrestling fans really do passionately hate him for what he did. Everything else is a bonus. If Arquette is indeed solely performing, he’s a hell of an actor.
Joey Keogh (@JoeyLDG) is a writer from Dublin, Ireland with an unhealthy appetite for horror movies and Judge Judy. In stark contrast with every other Irish person ever, she’s straight edge. Hello to Jason Isaacs.