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Anything But Lame

Rugby is a rough sport. When quadriplegics play it, it's even rougher. Murderball is the dramatic documentary about hypercompetitive, wheelchair-bound men who play "quad rugby" (the nicer term than murderball) with a passion equaling that of any professional athlete. It's truly something to behold.

After Joe Soares, once the star of the unrivaled Team USA, is inexplicably yanked from the squad, he gleefully crosses the border to coach the former enemy, Team Canada -- with the sole aim of beating Team USA at the upcoming 2004 Paralympics in Athens, Greece. Mark Zupan, a jock with some serious tattoos and an attitude to match, considers Soares worse than a traitor and spurs his teammates to maintain their supremacy. This is no boring talking-heads documentary; there's in-your-face belligerence aplenty.

Thanks to their unfettered access to the locker rooms, bedrooms, hospitals, and hotels where these manly men live and horse around, directors Henry Alex Rubin and Dana Adam Shapiro convey the strong personalities, petty confrontations, and genuine emotions that run high on and off the court.

The filmmaking is superb. Cameras attached to players' tricked-out wheelchairs capture the manic intensity of the sport. Unexpected animation sequences illustrate murderball's rules, recount the reasons for each player's affliction, and depict their aspirations; it's a neat touch.

The storytelling is wonderful as well. Murderball is combative, humorous, educational, and inspiring. There's enough in this riveting documentary for several feature films. It doesn't matter whether childhood polio, a rare blood disease, or a motocross accident originally maimed them -- these men live life fully and without regret. One guy even meets the high school buddy whose drunken driving accident put him in the wheelchair in which he now plays. These men hold the word "handicapped" in contempt. Murderball shows that they are anything but.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars