Winner of two prizes including the prestigious Audience Award at Sundance ‘05, Henry Alex Rubin and Dana Adam Shapiro’s Murderball documents the increasing popularity of quad rugby, a sport in which quadriplegics charge at each other on tricked-out wheelchairs. Rubin and Shapiro spent a considerable amount time with members of the top-ranked USA team, winners of the World Championship in quad rugby for 10 years before they were crushed by the Canadian team in 2002, but Murderball specifically focuses on three people: Mark Zupan, a jocky member of the American team; Keith Cavill, a speed freak who looks to possibly join the sport; and Joe Soares, the former American all-star who coaches the Canadian team to victory. Murderball is smooth to a fault: It knows how to cover its bases, but its tidy structure doesn’t exactly gel with the rough-and-tumble nature of the sport at its center. If there’s a reality to quad rugby, Cavill, Zupan, and Soares represent the sport’s before, during, and after, respectively: Cavill is just out of physical rehab and is feeling inconsequential; Zupan is a pro (on the court and—apparently—in the bedroom); and Soares stings so much from being thrown out of the American team, his wounded pride takes him to Canada. Because the jokes fly as fast and hard as the wheelchairs, the documentary often brings to mind Timmy and Jimmy’s cripple fight from South Park. This is the kind of comparison the filmmakers and subjects would gladly welcome, because that’s how “cool” Murderball is (at one point, Zuban’s girlfriend talks about missing “the people” at the morgue she used to work at)—hell, I’d even wager that the “Sexually Reborn” video Rubin and Shapiro show clips from (too many, if you ask me), is meant to evoke all those educational videos Phil Hartman’s Troy McClure used to host on The Simpsons. In this way, Rubin and Shapiro refuse to portray their subjects as helpless cripples—a noble gesture for sure, but one that limits the scope of the film, which too often displays a lack of objectivity (when the directors side with Zupan and his peeps against Soares, they cluelessly position the film as a rah-rah USA anthem) and shortchanges some tender, often heartbreaking revelations (Zupan’s forgiving parents wonder what kind of pain consumes Chris Igoe, who put their son in a wheelchair), for fear that Murderball ever gets Oprah Winfrey on our asses. Which is to say: The film has blood and sweat (and laughs) to spare, but not quite enough tears.
- Henry Alex Rubin, Dana Adam Shapiro
- Mark Zupan, Joe Soares, Keith Cavill
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