Thursday, June 5, 2008

Roid Rage

Last night, I attended an advance screening of budding filmmaker Christopher Bell's much-buzzed about documentary Bigger, Stronger, Faster at Philly's Ritz Five. The movie - which attempts to expose the cold, hard facts about steroid use in America - is very entertaining and comprehensive, but doesn't really bring about anything new regarding our country's performance enhancement drug problem.

Like Michael Moore and Morgan Spurlock before him, Bell narrates with a comic, relatable enthusiasm, and investigates his topic with great resolve. However, with their films, Moore and Spurlock did and do reveal hidden truths (being, perhaps the Columbine killings and the deadliness of fast food, respectively), as should all non fiction entertainment. Bell just sort of uses their formula to recycle what everyone already knows about steroids. He thrusts mass quantities of facts and figures at the audience, but none of it is all that staggering. Will the use of anabolic roids make your testicles shrink? Yes. Will females develop deeper voices? Check. Are most professional athletes doing it? Probably. Will it kill you? Probably not. This picture doesn't open your eyes, it just makes sure you haven't closed them. But it an age when war, fuel costs, and a groundbreaking election are making headlines, forgive me if I avert my gaze elsewhere.

Bell does succeed in gaining unprecedented access for his project, proving that there must have been some serious cash behind it. Nearly everyone the director makes an example of, everyone who has ever been involved in a high profile steroid case, is not only mentioned, but featured in the film. Olympic athletes, doctors, lawyers, politicians, fitness models, photographers, magazine editors who are pro-roids, psychiatrists, current users and family members of users all appear somewhere. Even Gov. Schwarzenegger (who, as a former user like himself, was the director's hero as a child) shows up in a captured photo-op. He's meant to be made out as the villain, a la Charlton Heston in Moore's Bowling for Columbine, but in actuality looks more like an accomplished man with a dark past than an ignorant bastard. Bell does not have a strong enough position on the topic, or direction with his movie, to inspire such strong emotional responses.

That's a surprising detail, given the fact that the subject matter of B,S,F hits close to home with the director. As mentioned, Bell himself is a former user, but his two bulky brothers are currently shooting up, and provide the human side of the story. One lifts 700 lbs. in a strong man competition, and the other has pipe dreams of making it big as a pro wrestler. This should make the movie ring true despite its obviousness, but Bell's ambivalence and the lack of severely devastating side effects keeps it from doing so. It becomes a well-produced personal account of a story that everyone's already heard.

If you like documentaries that tell you what you already know, but allow you to have a blast in the process, give B,S,F a look when it goes wider in theaters this Friday (look out for an appearance of the man with the world's biggest biceps - shocking!). If not, just check out the trailer:

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