Bigger Stronger FASTER* The Side Effects Of Being American

2008, Movie, NR, 106 mins

Review

BIGGER STRONGER FASTER* THE SIDE EFFECTS OF BEING AMERICAN
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Chris Bell's loosely structured, attenuated documentary explores the cult of body worship and the ways athletes and ordinary citizens use drugs, particularly steroids, to enhance performance and attain exaggerated physiques.

Bell, once a self proclaimed "fat pale kid from Poughkeepsie," and his two brothers grew up idolizing Hulk Hogan, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone, and turned to bodybuilding as a way of compensating for their deficiencies. Older brother Mike, overweight like Chris, became a high school athlete – he was captain of football team – while Chris and younger brother Mark, who had a learning disability took up weightlifting; they were coached by their mother's brother, a body builder. As a high school senior, Chris was strong enough to win juvenile competitions, and disdained steroids as something losers used. Then Hogan admitted to using steroids, followed by Schwarzenegger and Stallone, and both his brothers took the plunge; Mike left college to become a professional wrestler while Mark became a competitive weight lifter. Bell's quest to find out why he always saw steroids and other drugs as cheating while others – including both his brothers – don’t takes him down many roads. Not only does he delve into the rules governing professional athletes and the ways they circumvent them, but he explores the health supplement industry, the changing physiques of comic-book superheroes and GI Joe action figures, 'roid rage, military use of amphetamenes, "gene doping" (the genetic mutation that allows Belgian Blue cattle to grow "double muscle" has implications that go beyond the stockyard), reliance on beta blockers to banish stage fright and the off-label use of ADD drugs like adderall to improve concentration, widespread retouching in physique magazines and the adult-film industry's reliance on liquid Viagra. And he keeps circling back to his brothers: Mike's wrestling career fizzled, he became addicted to recreational drugs, attempted suicide and is trying to get a new WWE contract while performing at tiny local venues. Mark opened a gym, got married, had a child, and promised his wife he's stop using steroids. He hasn't.

Bell's film is in need of an unbiased editor, but his conclusion that the use of steroids is rooted in a poisonous American belief that bigger is inherently better and second best is just first among losers is compelling. And he doesn't let himself off the hook: He doesn't use performance enhancing drugs, but when Mark scores a coveted victory – one he would never have won without doping – Bell and his parents (including his mom, who wept when she learned two of her sons were on the juice) are on the sidelines cheering him on. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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