Beyond the Mat Reviews
As a pro wrestling fan, this is golden! These guys are bigger then life on the screen, but this movie shows the daily struggles of being hurt and trying to make it big.
This documentary, marketed as "The film Vince McMahon DOESN'T want you to see," follows professional wrestlers from the independent circuit (local/regional promotions that put shows on in the area the company calls home) and two of the biggest professional wrestling promotions in the late 1990's, the World Wrestling Federation (renamed World Wrestling Entertainment not too long after the release of this film) and Extreme Championship Wrestling (which was bought out by the now-WWE a few years after the release of this film), and wrestlers who are no longer in the spotlight.
The film does not have budget of a major Hollywood release, and it shouldn't. It's not about the glitz and glamor the fans see, it's about the men and women who put their bodies and lives on the line every time they step inside the "squared circle" (the ring).
The film focuses on just a few wrestlers. Namely Mick Foley (wrestling under the name Mankind, the reigning WWF World Champion), Terry Funk, 1980's star Jake "The Snake" Roberts and to a lesser degree, Jerome Young, who wrestled in ECW (and still wrestles as) New Jack. It also focuses on to indy (independent) wrestlers, one of which I've heard of in magazines and online. It also features Darren Drozdov, who was literally hired in front of the film's cameras and given the gimmick (character) known as "Puke", based on the fact that he was able to make himself vomit at will (I kid you not! He is shown demonstrating this "skill". However, he would later be repackaged as Droz. At the end of the movie, it is briefly mentioned that he was paralyzed during a match three months after filming wrapped. Eight years later, he is still in a wheelchair.)
It doesn't present the wrestlers in their respective characters, it presents the persons behind the characters. It shows Foley as a loving family men who is a big kid, It shows Funk nearing one of his numerous retirements (he is notorious for returning to wrestling after retiring). And it shows Roberts as a drug addict (he is shown lighting up a crack cocaine pipe on camera).
You get to see the behind-the-scenes business of three promotions, an independent promotion, the WWF and ECW. It shows Foley discussing a pay-per-view match with Dwayne Johnson, who was known as "The Rock" (this is Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson who is now an actor who starred in such recent movies as "Gridiron Gang" and "The Scorpion King"). You get to see ECW as it makes its debut on Pay-Per-View Television debut, which includes an incredible inspirational speech by then-owner Paul Heyman. And we get to see the backstage aftermath of the Mankind/The Rock match, which literally brought Foley's young daughter to tears to the point that Foley's wife has to remove her children from their front row seat and bring them backstage (Foley received multiple shots to the head with a steel chair in the match, which is shown through the film crew's camera).
Another wrestler the film focuses on is one of Foley's longtime friends, Terry Funk. Funk, a second generation wrestler whose brother Dory Jr. also wrestles. We get to see Funk as he goes to the doctor, who advises him to get knee replacement surgery. This prompts him to announce his (one of many) retirement at the reception of his daughter's wedding. We then follow him around he begins to wind down his career. We see him, and his family, at the debut ECW PPV, ask a wrestler who never made it as a major star to referee his final match, to the post-match ceremony at his retirement show where ECW owner Heyman declares Funk the ECW World Heavyweight Champion for Life.
The show also touches on other major names in the business at the time, but doesn't focus on them like Foley, Funk and Roberts. There are brief segments on Jerome Young (better known as New Jack), Joanie Laurer (better known as Chyna) and a few others. There are also interviews with other major, and not so major names, the weirdest having to be with Matt Hyson (known as Spike Dudley). Hyson was a wrestler with ECW, which was known for violent, bloody matches. We learn that Hyson's previous job was a third grade teacher, and he was an English major who loves Shakespeare. As he is bleeding from the forehead, thanks to an injury sustained in the ring prior to the interview, the movie's producer asks him to recite his favorite line from Shakespeare. Hyson then recites a line from memory -- as blood pours down over his face.
The most uncomfortable, and saddest segment features 1980's star Jake "The Snake" Roberts. Robets had hit rock bottom at the time this documentary was filmed. He has become addicted to crack cocaine, and is shown smoking the drug shortly after meeting up with his estranged daughter in an uncomfortable reunion. He has had a hard life. A result of rape of his then 13-year old mother, who has a strained relationship with his father, a well-known wrestler who never reached the height of fame Jake did. Years later, in a WWE-produced DVD retrospective on his career, Roberts blasted how he was depicted in this film, to the point of bad mouthing the producer and Terry Funk.
What this movie does not address is the "wrestling is fake" debate. That is mostly because it show's what pro wrestling is -- entertainment that takes a toll on the bodies and lives of those in the ring. After seeing Foley, and Mr. McMahon (Vince McMahon's stage name) being stitched up after a show, you may reconsider how "fake" wrestling is.
The only downside of this film is that wrestling fans are the only ones most likely to buy or rent this movie. However, I suggest that people who do not watch wrestling (especially the ones who say "wrestling is fake") view this movie if you ever come across it on television along with the documentaries "Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows" (which puts Vince McMahon in an even worse light than "Beyond the Mat") and the television documentary "The Unreal Story of Professional Wrestling" (A&E still airs it from time to time) to better understand the true nature of the business.