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Review: You Cannot Kill David Arquette

A thoughtful, entertaining, uplifting, and heartbreaking blending of the silly and sublime, directors David Darg and Price James’ documentary You Cannot Kill David Arquette revolves around a “sport” not many outside of its most ardent and vocal fans think about on a regular basis and an actor who has a similar reputation. Although it could’ve easily been a breezy look at an actor trying to develop a new skillset in their middle aged years or an examination of a noteworthy moment in pop culture history that has divided film and wrestling fans alike for decades, You Cannot Kill David Arquette is a poignant and disarmingly emotional documentary about someone who’s a far more complicated human being than many of his vocal detractors suggest.

David Arquette is probably best known for his appearances in every movie in the lucrative and beloved Scream franchise and smaller, memorable roles as a character actor in films with beloved cult reputations, like Ravenous and Never Been Kissed. A member of one of Hollywood’s most high profile “royal” families, David Arquette was once tapped as potential breakout star during the late 90s, appearing on magazine covers with other actors who would go on to become A-list celebrities today. Then, in the year 2000, Arquette’s ascent in Hollywood hit a major snag with the release of Ready to Rumble, an ill conceived, juvenile, and limp comedy where Arquette and Scott Caan play wrestling fans who take their beloved sport too seriously.

The film was a massive flop, but it wasn’t the failure of Ready to Rumble that haunted Arquette the most. The film was produced in collaboration with Time Warner’s then fledgling World Championship Wrestling, and the company decided to bring Arquette onto their television show for a bit of cross promotion. Setting aside the fact that Arquette never appeared on WCW’s flagship show Monday Nitro until weeks after Ready to Rumble was dead in the water and virtually out of theatres, the powers that be behind the scenes made the decision to make David – an actor with no in ring experience – their World Heavyweight Champion in a storyline that many wrestling fans decry not only as the moment Ted Turner’s once thriving organization died an agonizing death, but as the worst storyline in the history of the business, full stop.

Arquette never wanted to become a wrestling champion. As a lifelong fan of wrestling and a big kid at heart, he found the storyline insulting to the lineage of those who worked hard, paid their dues, and held the belt in the past. He donated all of the money he made from his several weeks of WCW appearances to the families of wrestlers that passed away, and while his altruism was commended by fans, Arquette’s title reign remains infuriating to anyone in the business whenever it’s brought up.

You Cannot Kill David Arquette finds the actor at a crossroads in his life once again. By his own admission, Arquette’s career has been “pretty crappy” in recent years, and that he’s faced ten years of rejection. To some degree, he cites starring in Ready to Rumble as a career killer, but it’s being hated by the very fandom he identifies so closely with that stings more. You Cannot Kill David Arquette isn’t about its subject’s desire to resurrect his acting career in the purest sense, but rather an attempt being made to give wrestling fans something genuinely worthwhile to watch instead of the cheap stunt they were left with back in 2000.

Darg (who directed the Oscar nominated short Body Team 12) and James follow Arquette’s road to in-ring redemption, pulling no punches in the process. While Arquette is a relatively jovial fellow at most times throughout, there’s a distinct bit of melancholy that makes their documentary so satisfying. Arquette’s flaws are on full display throughout, most notably his status as a self-admitted “functional alcoholic” and his often crippling anxiety. Here is a man who’s a big kid at heart, a loving family man, and very earnest and serious about his desire to become a properly trained wrestler in his forties, but he’s also his worst critic and enemy. Here is a person who has already heard everything negative there is to say about him, and somehow he finds new criticisms within himself that are often far more damaging. His inability to seemingly say no to something and the unlikelihood of him taking no for an answer compound things further.

A scene where Arquette is struggling to find a new in ring “gimmick” leads to a positively shattering, but instantly relatable image. Dressed in a wizard cloak and sitting forlornly on a horse while vaping and ruminating on his life at sunset, Arquette sets the ultimate 2020 mood. At the same time, it’s so real and unforced that Arquette becomes one of the most honest subjects of a documentary in recent memory. It’s sad, and he looks silly, but taken in context with what he’s trying to accomplish and what he has already achieved, it’s far from pathetic. The film is packed with unflattering moments that most actors wouldn’t dream of sharing with an audience (a freak out during a ketamine assisted therapy session, having his first match back being an embarrassingly shady backyard affair, sleeping on a hotel lobby floor and vomiting into a cardboard box), and while we share the worry for David that his wife, kids, ex-wife, and siblings express, there’s a large part of the viewer that desperately wants him to succeed in all of his future endeavors. 

In addition to Arquette learning once and for all that there’s a difference between admiring and dabbling in something and being a professional, the performer learns that the greatest gimmick he can be is himself. His name comes with all the baggage necessary for wrestling fans to either hate him or feel for him, and those seemingly reduced expectations make the incredible efforts Arquette has been putting in all the more surprising and satisfying. At least now if fans want to boo him, thanks to his incredible shape (in spite of some nagging heart problems) and more polished grappling style, Arquette has made them hate him for all the right reasons instead of for his pop culture infamy.

There are some moments throughout You Cannot Kill David Arquette that feel more like a “work” than a documentary styled “shoot,” particularly at the beginning and ending, but certainly not during the actor’s infamously brutal and shudder inducing “deathmatch” with Nick Gage, which is even more harrowing here than it was when it first shocked fans. But even in the predetermined world of professional wrestling, Darg and James have tapped into something truthful and moving about the human condition. 

People wrestle with their insecurities everyday and in all walks of life, and they often struggle to find ways of battling those nagging doubts and constructively combating them. While not everyone will agree that Arquette is going about all of this in the healthiest way possible for someone his age and with all of his internal and external baggage, it’s the honest attempt at bettering oneself and giving the people what they want that means the most.

You Cannot Kill David Arquette is available on VOD in Canada starting Friday, August 28th.

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