What did happen to David Arquette? At one point he was heading to be the hottest new star in Hollywood. With a few minor roles gaining him praise he started appearing in starring roles as the late 90’s rolled around. Seemingly he had gained the nod of tinsel town when in 1996 he graced the cover of Vanity Fair’s special Hollywood edition, alongside several future major movie players. Leonardo DiCaprio, Bencio Del Toro and Matthew McConaughey all stood alongside him on the cover and you don’t need me to tell you how their careers went. With Arquette however the opposite is what sort of occurred. With only the Scream franchise being his most known acting credit, he became refined to small TV parts with the odd occasional film role. But mostly he has been relegated to being known as that bloke who married Monica from Friends. So, what in the hell did happen to cause this? Well the answer is a rather strange one.
In 2000, Arquette starred in a comedy movie about wrestling called Ready to Rumble. The movie was backed by World Championship Wrestling (WCW), who at this point was still one of the major wrestling companies in North America and the direct competition to World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE – Then still known as WWF). Being a big fan of the graps himself and given who was backing the project it must have seemed like a no brainer to Arquette. What must have maybe even sweetened the deal was that WCW put Arquette on their weekly show Nitro to help drum up publicity, placing him in a major storyline. Nothing strange about that. Celebrity involvement to get butts in seats has been a popular play in wrestling. Mr T was in the main event of the first Wrestlemania. Mick Tyson KO’d Shawn Michaels at another Mania. Hell, even the now soon to be former President of the United States, Donald Trump, tackled and limply punched Vince McMahon (WWE Owner) at Wrestlemania 23. All three of those men are even in the WWE’s Hall of Fame.
The key difference with those examples is the celebrity’s involvement were kept to a slight minimum. They were simply there to draw up publicity, not pretend they could actually wrestle. Involvement of such stars has always rubbed up those in the locker room who have had to work their whole lives to get to where they are. It is just viewed as incredibly disrespectful. Although both are essentially a form of performance art, one really isn’t like the other. It would be like taking someone who made a career out of performing with sock puppets and asking them to animate the next Pixar film. It just isn’t going to work and it is going to upset a lot of people.
WCW clearly did not get this memo because they put their biggest prize, the World Heavyweight Championship, on David Arquette. Non-wrestling fans will probably not see the relevancy of that happening in a “fake” sport. But titles carry just as much weight in wrestling like they do in any other sport. Sure, it is predetermined who gets it but the belt still only goes on someone deserving. A talent who has worked to that spot and is viewed as being the person to carry the brand. Belts have a lineage and this one in particular can trace its routes back to the National Wrestling Alliance which was held by some of the all-time greats; Ric Flair, Harley Race, Dusty Rhodes. Wrestlers who worked hard to gain that spot just like any other athlete does.
As you can imagine, this caused an uproar among fans which to them felt like one giant middle finger. But if the movie did well then surely it must have done what it set out to achieve, right? Wrong. The movie was a total flop and the whole thing was just a complete and total disaster. WCW would eventually close its doors a few months later in 2001 and would be bought by their rival WWE. Many actually point to this being the final death knell for why WCW went out of business but in truth it was just one item on a list a mile long for a company that was haemorrhaging money. To his credit, Arquette never wanted the belt, knowing it would be a bad idea and too disrespectful to the fans and talent. He also donated his WCW salary to the then recently paralyzed Darren Drozdov and to the families of the late Owen Hart and Brian Pillman. But the damage had not only been done to the company but to Arquette’s career. It appears those in Hollywood did not see this as a good move and suddenly they were not looking at him too fondly anymore.
Cut to 2020 and the release of this documentary. You see, Arquette has clearly been plagued with what happened in his involvement in wrestling and he has never been allowed to forget. As shown in the opening moments, the rise of the wrestling YouTuber has resulted in numerous videos covering the event at length. Time heals all wounds but clearly it doesn’t calm a passionate wrestling fan. So, David decided it was time to exorcise those demons and prove he will not be defined as a man who tarnished wrestling. In 2018, Arquette announced he was stepping back into the business and the film chronicles his journey of finding redemption. It is a very strange documentary that for me is of two halves. It’s hard to tell if some of the choices were deliberate of the filmmakers but it makes for a bizarre watch in the beginning before ultimately achieving that feel good finale.
The first half mainly tackles the history of David, how he became involved with wrestling and the after effect. It also shows him making those first steps to get back into the business and it feels unbelievably hokey at times. A lot of people will probably think, but isn’t that a large part of wrestling? Speaking as a die-hard fan, yes it can be but wrestling is also treated very seriously by those who follow it. But many of these moments in the first half feel very Spinal Tap. I don’t doubt they may have actually happened and with all documentaries there is a degree of set up and staging. But when you see Arquette nearly get jumped by a bar full of wrestling legends. Or looking rather sorry for himself at his booth at a wrestling convention not signing one autograph you can’t help but snicker a little rather than feel sympathy for him. Even small moments like an interview with an indie wrestler sat in his gear pumping his weedy arms with dumbbell out the back of his seedy looking van feels like it is ripped out of a Christopher Guest mocumentary.
That is not to say all the moments in this half are not without merit. One key moment sees Arquette invited to a backyard wrestling federation following his disastrous wrestle convention appearance. Backyard feds are essentially as they sound. They are just run by fans for their own enjoyment in which they haven’t been properly trained and mainly indulge in the more blood and guts style of the graps. This marks David’s true first return to a ring and even if a lot of it will have been set up it does not take away from the lengths, he is willing to go to prove himself. His opponent states before the match he wants to teach Arquette some resect about the business. Slightly ironic a backyard guy wants to teach someone about respecting the business but you can appreciate his stance. The guy then proceeds to absolutely batter Arquette, hitting him with all the hall marks of a death match. He has light tubes cracked over him and is dropped in thumbtacks. Did I mention that Arquette is on blood thinner medication to help with a heart attack he suffered a year or two prior? It actually ends with a slight bittersweet moment as the wrestler who tried to murder Arquette helps him scrape the glass off his back and tend to his wounds.
It is from this point that the transition for how the documentary comes across begins to take effect. At the start of the film Arquette is a slightly out of shape smoker, coming off the back of a heart attack and past alcohol demons. But to his credit, Arquette goes to some great lengths to get in shape and be ring ready. A trip to Mexico sees him get support from wrestling legend and friend Diamond Dallas Page before he steps into the ring to train with luchadores. And it’s not just basic moves he begins to master either, he actually learns to hit a pretty impressive hurricarana. One rather interesting moment sees him join some street luchadores who wrestle in front of cars at traffic lights to earn spare change. Certainly a more out of the box method than a sponge and some window cleaner. His trip to Mexico cultivates with him joining his trainers in a match in front of a crowd where Arquette more than hold his own with the other luchadores and even earning his own mask.
It’s following the trip to Mexico the second half really kicks in and you gain the true appreciation of what Arquette has set out to do. A particular highlight is when he has one of his first major matches on American soil. The match is interspliced with Arquette and his opponent, RJ CIty, going over the breakdown of the bout as all the action unfolds. This is typically how wrestling is planned out with talent arriving to a show, finding out their opponent and then the two maybe have an hour or so to plan out a whole match. To my knowledge this is one of the first times it has been captured really well and it serves as a great insight into how much dedication and planning goes into a match. Not to mention it shows how much Arquette is putting in the effort. And he really does go to extreme lengths. He is not only hitting standard moves in his matches but is pulling off some pretty complex moves for a guy in his late 40’s. In some matches he is hitting some impressive spring board moves, which involves balancing and jumping off the ring ropes.
As it reaches its conclusion, the wheels to his redemption nearly fall off entirely. Before this documentary came out, Arquette made headlines about his return to wrestling when one particular match nearly cost him his life. He squared off against notorious deathmatch wrestler Nick Gage which resulted in a light tube spot going awry and his neck was perforated. It is a harrowing watch and seeing Arquette cling to the hole while being torn with walking to the back or finishing the match as the blood thirsty fans chant on. To help give you an understanding of the gravitas, it has been a long taboo in wrestling that is someone gets hurt they are usually expected to finish the bout. This stupid act of bravado is slowly being removed from the business but still hangs about as an old school mentality. It’s clear David is wrestling with this thought as he has been pretty badly hurt but he knows he may lose fans respect if he does leave. Arquette finishes the match and is quickly rushed to the hospital but is left dealing with fall out and ridicule from the media. It shows no matter what choice he made he was going to face some backlash from the match. To make matters worse he would also have to face the death of his long-time friend Luke Perry, who actually drove him to the hospital, not long after this incident. Previous moments have tried to portray him as sympathetic and fell flat but this is where it does hit home of what he is trying to achieve and the roadblocks he is constantly having to overcome.
Thankfully this tale does have a happy ending. Arquette ends his redemption by stepping into the ring against Mr Anderson at the same wrestling event where a year prior he nearly had his head kicked in by that bar full of legends. It really serves as an encapsulation of his journey seeing him win over the fans that would have once wanted his head and likewise the same of his now wrestling peers. The most tender moment though happens after this when he steps into the ring with Perry’s son Jack (Jungle Boy to any AEW fans) and the pair share a loving tribute and embrace to their late friend/father.
Overall, You Cannot Kill David Arquette is a strange watch but one I feel is a must see. If you weren’t aware of his history in the business you can’t help but feel this was all made up and staged for a mocumentary especially in those first moments. But over the course of this journey it slowly reveals itself to be a story of a man who has gone to the extreme to make up for a situation he arguably had no control over. At times funny and at others sad, it runs a gamut that nearly all viewers will find something to appreciate. If you are a wrestling fan you’ll appreciate (for the most part) the way it portrays the business and what Arquette sets out to do. For non-fans of wrestling you may actually gain a better insight and understanding for what wrestlers put themselves through. One thing is for sure, you cannot kill David Arquette’s passion and spirit.
If you enjoy wrestling, Greg has his own podcast called The Bearhug Club Podcast. Every week he and his pals, Garrod and Jace, talk about all the latest happenings in the business with wide in-depth discussions on major graps based topics. Available all good places you get your podcasts and you can find them on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.