Pop a Wheelie
Murderball sets you straight about one thing right off the bat: “Quadriplegic” does not mean “totally paralyzed” — it just means dude has some impairment in all four limbs. Murderball sets you straight about a second thing next: Patronize these guys at your own peril. They play a sport called “murderball,” after all, and it’s only a slight exaggeration to describe the game’s main rule as, “It’s basically kill the man with the ball,” as one enthusiastic player gleefully exclaims.
It’s not officially called “murderball,” of course, and that nom de jeu has tended to get played down as the ruling body of quad rugby — its official name — has started to go after corporate sponsorship, it’s noted here. A similar push-
Rubin and Shapiro embrace the raging passion of the personalities they meet as they follow Team USA — undefeated for a decade and bursting with as much macho arrogance that kind of record would lead you to expect — from the Wheelchair Rugby World Championship in Stockholm in 2003 to the 2004 Paralympics in Athens. Murderball is not, even in its energetic first half, a wildly unconventional film, but the directors let the particularly guy-
As they bop from explaining the complicated system that determines how many players in quad rugby can be on the court at the same time — it involves points per player based upon how much mobility each has — to introducing us to the array of almost viciously assertive and overwhelmingly competitive guys who play this sport, there’s a sense that Rubin and Shapiro are careening around like the players on the court. And that’s a good thing — like their subjects, they aren’t merely aping the big boys’ game, they’re taking it and making it their own. Or so it seems. But Murderball eventually settles into a sentimental groove, and it becomes clear that Rubin and Shapiro have merely been setting up what is to be a strikingly less original film than it appeared at first. They pick up the threads of the stories of players like Mark Zupan — he’s the scary-
There’s nothing exactly wrong with pleasing the audience, with weaving a traditional narrative ,with asking viewers to shed a tear or two over the triumphs and defeats of Our Heroes. But Zupan and Soares and all the rest are such extraordinary people, seized with a determination beyond that which most people would recognize — not a result of their disabilities but a function of their personalities that likely would have propelled them to do great things even if they were able-