dirs. Rubin, Shapiro
Opens Fri July 29
Fox Tower

Forget Christopher Reeve. And forget all your preconceptions about what "quadriplegic" means. The men in Murderball are hardly self-pitying and helpless--instead, they're fiercely competitive, mean, and downright horny.

Screened at Sundance--and gathering steam ever since--Murderball documents the unlikely sport of "quad rugby," or, as it was formerly called, "murderball." Played on basketball courts in wheelchairs equipped with bumpers and steel hubcaps, the game is like a wicked cross between chariot racing and arena football--fast moving and exciting. But most importantly, the men who play the game are rough-and-tough desperados, men who have overcome extreme neck-breaking, life-changing accidents.

But Murderball is hardly an after-school Special Olympics movie. Instead it's a brash, mature, in-your-face extreme sport profile. Following the U.S. National Quad Rugby team as they prepare for a grudge match against Canada at the 2004 Olympics, the film travels into a captivating subculture.

The driving force of the film is Mark Zupan, a tattooed Texan quadriplegic and Team USA's star player. Injured when he was 18 while passed out drunk in the back of a friend's pickup (who was also drinking, and subsequently wrecked the truck), Zupan still carries the unhealed wounds of teenage angst--in other words, he's an asshole. At various times, he threatens to punch your face and fuck your girlfriend. Sure, you want Team USA to win and, of course, you feel sympathy for a man injured in his prime, but still, Zupan has a spitting-mean personality--and is the perfect anti-hero.

Ultimately, what makes the film really work is that the directors are honest about the rugby players and don't fawn over them like poor cripples. Instead the filmmakers are shameless and blunt, digging for the dirtiest and most curious details about these men's lives--about the emotional pain of their disabilities and, in a humorous montage of interviews, about how their accidents affected their sex lives.

Forget Seabiscuit and Miracle On Ice. Murderball is what a sports movie is meant to be.