You Cannot Kill David Arquette. 2020.
Directed by David Darg & Price James.
Starring David Arquette, Christina McLarty Arquette, Patricia Arquette, Ric Flair, Dallas Page, Eric Bischoff, Courteney Cox, Jack Perry, RJ Skinner, & Brian Yandrisovitz.
One Last Run Productions / Carbon / Kidz Gone Bad
Rated 14A / 91 minutes
Like many people of my generation the first time I remember seeing David Arquette was in Scream. Dewey Riley instantly grabbed me, being a semi-foolish officer of the law who also had a big, genuine, puppy dog heart. I’d always watch for Arquette after that because his charm oozed off the screen. And it always does, even when he’s in something absolutely ridiculous. I’ve also been a wrestling fan for many years, but I stopped watching not long after Arquette’s appearance in WCW. My stopping had nothing to do with Arquette, I simply fell out of love with the way the industry was starting to go— post-Attitude era WWE never quite captured what I loved so much about wrestling in the mid-to-late ’90s.
Though when David won the WCW title, it did piss many wrestling fans off, not to mention other wrestlers and retired legends. Everyone knows wrestling’s staged— I’d never call it fake because the athleticism and risk that go into the craft are very real— yet to deconstruct the business publicly by having celebrities who have little to no athletic skill compete like anybody can do it is a deeply disrespectful act. Jay Leno and others had previously stepped into the WCW ring before Arquette. None of them ever clinched a title, though. So after Arquette won the title it made fans and wrestlers alike lose faith in the future of their business, resulting in him bearing the brunt of much abuse.
You Cannot Kill David Arquette is mainly about Arquette’s quest several years ago to mount a legitimate comeback, to step back into a ring but this time with training and a deeper appreciation for the business. We watch him go through the ringer: wrestling at a very, very, very indie show, training with real wrestlers everywhere from rural American to Mexico, all culminating in a big match with Ken Anderson. Apart from wrestling, the documentary focuses on Arquette’s personal struggles with addiction and mental health. The resulting film is a powerful tale of redemption, self-acceptance, and the supportive people we all need to occasionally lift us up when we’re too weak to carry ourselves.
“You don’t know how these guys treat me”
David’s seeking redemption in a sport full of people— pros, indies, and fans alike— that feel like he disrespected them and debased their craft, as well as the hard athletic work it takes to do it. There are genuinely depressing moments caught on film. Like when a couple guys selling comics at a convention are ragging on David right before he wanders over to buy merchandise off them. Or his first outing as the “Magic Man” at an indie show where he gets his ass kicked with 5 people in attendance, every one of them heckling him.
One beautiful thing revealed in the documentary, previously talked about in Ric Flair’s book, is what Brian Pillman Jr. tells the camera at the end of the film: Arquette donated his entire WCW paycheck to the families of wrestlers Owen Hart, Droz, Brian Pillman, and Bobby Duncum Jr. rather than keep it. You can feel how you want about his title win, but that monetary gesture suggests Arquette has always respected the business and the wrestlers.
David’s respect for wrestling does come out in the documentary, in a couple different ways. The film is not just capturing his journey, it’s a way to confront the myth that professional wrestling isn’t real, attempting to show the difference between scripted and fake— nobody calls the insane stunts done by stunt performers in movies fake, though we know it’s scripted and choreographed, yet people insist on calling wrestling fake when the physical toll on their bodies is more than evident. David’s physical journey helps show his non-wrestling fans the truth of the business, at once redeeming him and simultaneously helping patch up some of the collateral damage his WCW title win caused wrestling in the public consciousness. It’s possible that due to Arquette’s mainstream status people will see this documentary and walk away with a better perspective on him as a person, as well as on the sacrifices and hard work that go into wrestling.
“When I’m out there, I’m not David the Hollywood fuck-up some people think I am.”
Throughout the film David’s fighting his addiction as much as fighting for wrestling respect. He’s got mental health issues that have plagued him his entire life. The scene where a doctor gives him ketamine injections, nowadays often prescribed for those suffering with major depression, is wonderful because while David seems incredibly out of it he’s experiencing an acute relief of symptoms— almost as if all those good feelings his depression blocked out for years are flooding out of him in a giant wave. Something else we see with David’s struggles is the immense amount of loving support he has in his life, especially from his wife, Christina.
Christina’s Ms. Elizabeth valet entrance is David’s greatest moment in the entire film. That scene made me cry, seeing the cut between Christina and Ms. Elizabeth. Such a beautiful gesture to a damaged but lovable man from an amazing, supportive woman. Her recognition of David’s hopes and dreams for wrestling are the final piece of the puzzle for him. Although his family and friends support him, there’s an air of “Why the hell are you doing this?” constantly hanging over his siblings and others in his life. Christina wonders the same thing at a certain point. However, she’s the one to come around and understand what this journey means to her husband, that it’s about more than jumping in a ring and wrestling. Her support seems to unlock the last psychological barrier in David that was holding him back. It’s his boyhood fantasy finally come alive, complete with a Ms. Elizabeth lookalike to stand by his side on the way to the ring. My eyes are full of tears again just writing about it.
There are too many great moments to talk about in a review. Aside from Christina’s valet scene, the scenes where David’s in Mexico with the luchadores is probably my favourite section of the film. We watch David push himself to gain their respect, and to see them respond so joyfully is special— their gift of a mask is like a shot of adrenaline for him that feels like a turning point in his journey, a moment of acceptance when he gets love back from a world he worried would forever resent and hate him.
You Cannot Kill David Arquette is an emotional ride as adept at pulling the heartstrings as it is at making you laugh. Several familiar faces like Ric Flair and Eric Bischoff pop up, including brief cameos from New Jack and others. Diamond Dallas Page plays a big part in helping David get back into shape and ready to wrestle, once more showing his huge heart and a desire to help others. In spite of the famous faces, the focus never leaves David’s personal struggles at the core of all his other problems. He’s a man who wants to be loved, someone who appears to genuinely care about others and their problems, but who’s been too preoccupied trying to entertain everyone else to truly look after himself. I hope now that David’s finally redeemed himself in the ring he’ll take the time to be good to himself, too.