(FANTASIA 2020) FILM REVIEW: YOU CANNOT KILL DAVID ARQUETTE explores the real need to belong in a world of make-believe


Directors David Darg and Price James take a personal dive into the world of actor-turned-wrestler David Arquette and look at what it means to feel a part of a countercultural scene.

It’s a dark and barren background. In the distance, we see a large, hulking man, frothing and angry, speak with disdain about how his world isn’t a joke, but how the presence of an actor in his squared circle makes his passion, wrestling, seem like a game. The main is a former WWE superstar wrestler, Ken Anderson, and the man he calls out as a fraud? It’s David Arquette, star of films like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the Scream saga.

But, it’s 2020. We know from reality shows like E!’s Total Divas or USA’s Miz and Mrs. that the world of professional wrestling is one of sports-entertainment; a predetermined sporting contest where the in-ring maneuvers take skill and psychology to make a compelling match, but the characters and outcomes are meted out by the hand of a team of writers under a matchmaker who steers the wrestling promotion towards big events and pay-per-views to keep fans invested in the long term. But for people like Arquette, a life-long fan whose father even provided the voice of Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka in the Hulk Hogan WWF cartoon show on Saturday mornings in the 1980s, it’s something more. For the gulf in life experience that divides Arquette and Anderson, both feel a burden to prove something. Arquette was involved in World Championship Wrestling in the early 2000s, and at the hand of one of those matchmakers, he was made the world champion of the promotion as part of a PR stunt involving a wrestling movie Arquette had made involving WCW called Ready to Rumble. Unlike other entertainers like Mike Tyson or Dennis Rodman who were involved in wrestling at this time, Arquette wasn’t seen by fans as someone bringing a cool factor to WCW and many blamed his title reign as one of the factors that led to the death of the promotion. Now, 20 years later, Arquette feels the lack of the fraternity from fellow wrestling personalities when he wants to be involved in a wrestling show and the response leads him to want to rediscover his roots and become a proper wrestler and that’s the journey that YOU CANNOT KILL DAVID ARQUETTE takes the viewer on. Darg and James cover this path well, along with the demons that haunt Arquette that he deals with along the way. Arquette’s acting career is on something of a downswing, and while his siblings like Roseanna and Patricia Arquette have become well-established actors and Academy Award winners; David feels as if he was on that path and his career choices derailed his potential. In that sense, his desire to become a successful wrestler seems to be an attempt to prove he can succeed at something if he puts his mind to it.

To Arquette’s credit, he does set out to become a wrestler and put his dues in. We see Arquette start at the bottom, a backyard wrestling hardcore wrestling match, a violent affair where he’s basically jumped by kids wielding light tubes and broken glass. He then takes advice from former wrestling star Diamond Dallas Page, a WWE Hall of Famer turned yoga guru, who hooks him up with some Mexican luchadores in Tijuana. Here, Arquette learns about lucha libre, and street lucha, where young kids in masks put on impromptu gymnastic maneuvers for drivers at the border between the US and Mexico for pocket change. Here, Darg and James’ film starts to remind the viewer of the Damien Abraham VICE series THE WRESTLERS, where we follow Arquette as he gives a sort of lay of the land concept of the modern wrestling world, from the backyard to lucha to the various levels of independent wrestling. As he does so, he deals with the seeming disapproval from his kids and how the damage he is taking as a wrestler is having an effect on his relationship with his wife. One of the film’s most harrowing scenes is during a hardcore match with deathmatch wrestler Nick Gage, where a light tube shard nearly skits Arquette’s throat. His fellow wrestler Jungle Boy, whose father is Arquette’s long time friend and co-star Luke Perry rush him to the hospital. The moment is made all the more touching when Perry passes away shortly after helping save his friend’s life from an unexpected stroke. The incident gives Arquette perspective and drives him to try to put the pieces of his world together again.

YOU CANNOT KILL DAVID ARQUETTE dances the line between real and make-believe that good wrestling and good movies manage to skate with precision. While the industries behind both are all about providing an engaging facade and those who are the best at it are difficult to distinguish from their character, the film does the same. We root for Arquette because he’s our protagonist, our babyface in wrestling parlance. Seeing him succeed makes us cheer or pop for him and there’s enough in the narrative to see the hands of a storyline. But the obstacles and pain that Arquette feels on his way are very real and we see peeks behind the facade of his persona as an actor and the struggle of trying to make a pursuit like this work while struggling to keep his career going and his relationship at the forefront. In that regard, YOU CANNOT KILL DAVID ARQUETTE succeeds in making us see the true potential of the man who wants to make his family and his friends proud.