A review of “Murderball” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: *** 1/2

Rating: R for language and nudity

Run Time: 1 hour, 26 minutes

 

 

Tattooed handicappers with attitude are not your standard movie heroes.  Nor is quadriplegic rugby your average contact sport.  But the pair is a potent duo in this vibrant documentary that speaks to triumph of the spirit and a helluva good time.

Quad rugby is an insane game, an anarchic indoor sport (think bumper cars on speed) that requires brains, brawn and a liberal dose of insanity. Leading their sport is a team of modern-day gladiators known as the U.S. Paralympic Rugby team, a fanatical bunch of accident victims who have redefined their lives post-trauma and focused their energies on the positive.

The stories behind these guys are rife with human drama.  Team captain Mark Zupan -- sexy, enigmatic bad boy -- was thrown from the back of a truck as a teenager and paralyzed from the waist down.  His charismatic teammates found their own lives equally and tragically altered from gunshot wounds, polio, hypothermia, you name it.

Not that you’d know it to meet them.  Zupan and company are trash-talking, hard-partying dynamos with an unusual zest for life and a definite eye for the ladies.  They are as candid about their misfortunes as they are their sex lives, never skipping a brutally honest beat.

The film journeys with the boys to the 2002 World Championships in Sweden and again to Athens in 2004 for the Paralympics and a serious shot at gold.  Team USA’s arch-nemesis is Team Canada, coached by former US Paralympics star Joe Soares, a bitter soul with revenge on the brain and a chip the size of Texas on his shoulder.

Let the games begin!  Zupan and company fight their fiercest battles on the court but let their softer sides take over off it.  Poignant moments abound; Zupan making amends with the guilt-ridden friend who was driving the truck at the time of his accident, the boys aiding a motocross accident victim with the physical and psychological hurdles of spending the rest of his life in a wheelchair, and so on.

Murderball isn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination. Its narrative is rough-and-tumble and somewhat chaotic; touching on the games, personalities and tribulations in a semi-disorderly fashion.  But its energy is unmistakable, born of a fiery determination and single-minded spirit rarely witnessed onscreen or off.