Bigger, Stronger, Faster*



OPENS: Friday, May 30 (Magnolia Pictures)

A documentary with both brains and brawn, "Bigger, Stronger, Faster*" provides a lively and incisive look into the nation's growing preoccupation with pumped-up superlatives.

Director and career gym rat Christopher Bell turns a personal odyssey through the performance-enhancing subculture into a freewheeling survey of the state of the juiced union, where Schwarzenegger and Hulk Hogan go mano a mano with Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds.

Paraphrasing from the Six Million Dollar Man's "Better, Stronger, Faster" mantra, the Magnolia Pictures release, which screened this year at Sundance, could go the distance theatrically on the strength of enthusiastic reviews.

Bell, who shares writing credit with director of photography Alex Buono and Tamsin Rawady, grew up in the supersized '80s, worshipping at the butt-kicking muscles of Arnold, the Hulkster and Stallone before trading his Poughkeepsie, N.Y., home for Venice Beach, Calif.

But unlike his similarly pumped siblings Mike aka "Mad Dog" and Mark aka "Smelly," Chris never got into steroids and now questions whether he made the right decision.

His investigation into everything from the congressional hearing into steroid use in baseball to troubling contemporary images of American masculinity (as evidenced by the evolution of the increasingly juiced G.I. Joe doll over the past several decades) yields some unexpectedly thought-provoking results.

We learn, for example, that performance-enhancing drugs have been a fact of life among U.S. Olympic teams dating back to the mid-'50s, when a drunken Soviet coach bragged to an American coach that Russian athletes had been injected with testosterone injections since the mid-'40s.

Soon after that confession, American scientists were hard at work developing a more powerful oral anabolic steroid.

But though Bell tracks down an unusually colorful lineup of talking heads and archival footage, he never veers too far from his own brothers and sympathetic parents, who keep "Bigger, Stronger, Faster," so relatably and affectingly down-to-earth.  

DIRECTOR: Christopher Bell SCREENWRITERS: Christopher Bell, Alexander Buono, Tamsin Rawady EXECUTIVE PRODUCERS: Terrance J. Aarnio, Robert Weiser, Richard Schiffrin PRODUCERS: Alex Buono, Tamsin Rawady, Jim Czarnecki DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY: Alex Buono MUSIC: Dave Porter EDITOR: Brian Singbiel Rated PG-13, 106 minutes.