Backyard, The

Reviewed By wintermute
Posted 08/26/03 10:37:42

"Uninspired and strangely dry"
3 stars (Average)

As a fan of amateur wrestling syndicates, and having seen my fair share of "holy shit!" gore-soaked moments in and out of the ring, I approached this film with eager anticipation at the Fantasia Festival in Montreal, Quebec. Unfortunately, what I witnessed on the screen seemed oddly slowed down and devoid of the intensity inherent in human combat.

Paul Hough purports the film to be an overview of the backyard wrestling phenomena that has sprouted across America in direct symbiosis with the surging popularity of the WWE. In actuality, the film focuses on several distinct story lines. Through interviews, fight footage, and narration, Hough introduces us to The Lizard, Scar, Chaos, Heartless, The Retarded Butcher - all noms de plume for young warriors who fight in front of tiny crowds of their peers for little or no recognition.

While Hough appears genuinely interested in his subject, the wrestler's lack of eloquence or clarity of self-expression hinders the audience's ability to make any kind of real connection with his chosen subjects. In fact one spends most of one's time laughing at the inanity of some of the motivations behind these bloody spectacles, so much so that when we are confronted with intensely personal details of the lives of some of these wrestlers, it catches us by surprise and we are even further unable to empathize.

By far, the most interesting and somewhat poignant moments of the film take place when The Lizard is on screen. A snaggle-toothed, ill-grammar-ed southerner, The Lizard is the type of male who would have been most at home in a Trans Am circa 1978, crushing empties on his skull and cruising for squirrel. But since this is the year 2002, and mass media has infected everyone's heads with impossible dreams, The Lizard is instead hissing his way to the top of local and not-so-local wrestling leagues. Unabashedly emotional and definitely dedicated, The Lizard surprises us all by simultaneously working his way into our hearts and making the second cut of WWE's Tough Enough. He eventually landing a steady gig as a pro wrestler, which is more than can be said for any other person in this film.

As for the much-hyped violence and blood supposedly attached to this film, let me state that if you are at all familiar with hardcore wrestling in any form - Japanese, WWE, IWS - then you will be sorely disappointed. Nothing more than Jackass levels of painful antics are on display in this film, and far less professionally executed, if that were possible. In fact, the tameness of the wrestling is th weakest part of this documentary - we are forced to watch wrestling sequences that are non-entertaining, if not repetitive and dull.

Interestingly, a friend who saw this with me was far more impressed with the action and 'craziness' of the hardcore scene. Perhaps it was my familiarity with this subject that made it more difficult for me to be wowed by this level of violence. In any case, aside from a slow narrative and lack of real focus, this is not by any stretch a poor film, and if you are new to the arena of backyard combat, then this film is not to be avoided.

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