‘Bodyslam: Revenge of the Banana’: Tribeca Review
An amateur wrestling group faces challenges from an unpredictable malcontent in this offbeat documentary
The often outrageous theatricality at the heart of professional wrestling gets unpacked and unconventionally reassembled in Bodyslam: Revenge of the Banana, a profile of the Seattle Semi-Pro Wrestlers and the disruptive tactics pursued by a rogue member. Alternately endearing and slightly off-center, Ryan Harvie and John Paul Horstmann’s doc looks destined to solidify its extended fanbase via the festival circuit and digital media.
Seattle Semi-Pro (SSP) is an entertainment collective that promotes and performs outrageous wrestling routines for live audiences at alternative city venues. Conceived by fans of the pro sport as a fun way to spoof its endemic excesses in a cabaret-style setting, SSP recruits and trains volunteer fighters who stage choreographed bouts in front of rowdy crowds of fans. Promoters and trainers instruct newbies on proper “wrestling” techniques and how to conceive and exploit an effective stage persona. Josh Black aka “Ronald McFondle,” one of the principal organizers and performers in the loose-knit collective of self-identified misfits, offers to help with training new member Paul Richards, another Seattle resident.
As the film makes abundantly clear, the mid-40s Richards is an outlier even by SSP’s fairly flexible standards. He appears to have few actual friends and to be chronically unemployed, somehow managing to pay his mortgage and living expenses by collecting loose change and recyclables from the street. Raised an only child by a single, alcoholic, drug-abusing mother, as a kid Richards identified with the prowess of pro wrestlers and so jumps at the chance to join SSP in response to a recruitment posting on the group’s website.
According to the SSP crew, he makes a dedicated recruit, regularly attending trainings and working out to prepare for their live shows. When he’s eventually given the role of The Banana, clad in a bright-yellow getup and black feather boa, Richards relishes his new status within the group. By most accounts, however, the onstage character was conceived for comic relief, but humor isn't exactly Richards’ strong suit and he pursues the part with far too much intensity and not enough humor. Black is among the SSP organizers who decides he should be divested of The Banana role, a plan that doesn’t sit well with Richards, who sets out to plot his revenge.
Beyond the limited entertainment value of the amateur wrestling bouts frequently depicted, Bodyslam doesn’t seem likely to generate much interest regarding the personalities involved, most of whom don’t evince much charisma. Although Richards makes an eccentric subject, he’s hardly a compelling onscreen presence. Laconic, unemotional and slightly disconnected, he shambles through the film, providing only occasional comic relief. Black comes across most forcefully when he’s in character as Ronald McFondle, but remains fairly soft-spoken otherwise, an unexpected trait shared by most of the other colorful performers as well.
Although the film’s interview segments are professionally shot and edited, the often wobbly and poorly lit wrestling footage is inconsistent at best, sustained primarily by the performances rather than by technical expertise.
Production company: Zipper Bros Films
Directors: Ryan Harvie, John Paul Horstmann
Producers: Kerri Borsuk , Ross M. Dinerstein, Glen Zipper, Ryan Harvie, John Paul Horstmann
Director of photography: Shea William Vanderpoort
Editors: Ryan Harvie, John Paul Horstmann
Music: Duncan Thum
No rating, 91 minutes