Believe the Hype

Columbus Alive | August 4, 2005
Mark Zupan puts his pants on one leg at a time, just like everybody else, as filmmakers Dana Adam Shapiro and Henry-Alex Rubin show in the opening moments of their exhilarating, revelatory Murderball. But Zupan’s not like everybody else—the goateed, tattooed bad boy jock is one of the shining stars of quadriplegic rugby, the more genteel name the sport adopted because, as Zupan explains, “You can’t really market ‘murderball’ to corporate sponsors.”

The old name certainly seems more appropriate, though, as the athletes trade their everyday wheelchairs for Mad Max-style war chariots to engage in what looks like a combination of basketball and demolition derby. “It’s basically kill the man with the ball,” one player says of the game.

But even more than the thrilling games and interesting Everything You’ve Ever Wanted to Know about Quadriplegics But Were Afraid To Ask segments, the personalities make the film. No screenwriter could come up with guys like Zupan, whose friends assure the audience he was “very much an asshole” before the chair, and Joe Soares, a former U.S. star who was cut from the team as he got older, and started coaching the Canadian team to seek vengeance.

There’s enough raw, potent melodrama for a half dozen Hollywood movies all jam-packed into 90 minutes, making for a sort of super documentary. The plotlines come remarkably close to the fictional ones we’re familiar with from sports movies, but with the added benefit of being totally real.

Aside from the central U.S. versus Canada rivalry (“How does it feel to betray your country?” one American player shouts at a gloating Soares), there’s Soares’ difficult relationship with his un-athletic son, Zupan’s strained friendship with the buddy whose drunk driving put him in the wheelchair, and a young motocross rider’s rehabilitation from a broken neck.

Put simply, Murderball is everything people go to the movies to see. It’s funny, thrilling, enlightening and even (gulp) inspirational, and yet there’s not a drop of sap sticking to it—just plenty of grit and adrenaline.

Columbus Alive

Founded in 1983, Alive is the Capital City's oldest and only independent alternative and is known for providing a forum for the area's free thinkers. The paper's spirited and original perspective on music, arts and culture distinguish it from the...
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