Doc of the Day: Pulling John Review - Dan Schindel

Doc of the Day: Pulling John

Posted in Days of Docs by - September 20, 2012

Stop snickering at the title and pay attention. “Pulling” refers to arm wrestling, okay?

Dir. Vassiliki Khonsari & Sevan Matossian, 2009, 72 min, Viewed via Netflix Instant

Pulling John is like Rocky IV, except the unbeatable superman is American and the scrappy challenger is Russian. Also, it involves arm wrestling instead of boxing. And no one dies. And I must confess that I haven’t seen Rocky IV, and know of it only through pop culture. That’s the one with the robot butler, right?

Anyway, of all the men who seek to prove that they have greater arm strength than other men, John Brzenk is the champion. Widely agreed to be the greatest arm wrestler to ever live, he went 25 years without ever being defeated. The man has biceps that are thicker than my head, and while I am given to hyperbole, that is seriously not an exaggeration at all.

Into this ring steps Alexey Voyevoda, a younger, Russian challenger to John’s title. The movie follows each of them separately, leading to the inevitable collision course at a competition. Along the way, John recounts how he didn’t choose this life, it chose him (Arm wrestling runs in his family. I was unaware that this was something that could run in families), his development as a wrestler, and what it was like to appear in Sylvester Stallone’s seminal arm wrestling film Over the Top.

No matter what’s at stake or our personal investment in things, there’s only so many times you can watch two guys trying to out-grunt each other before it gets repetitive. Pulling John is cute, though it meanders an awful lot. You know that this is all building to the match between John and Alexey, but no real stakes get set up in any meaningful way. Who really cares if either of them wins? John doesn’t seem overly bothered by the prospect of losing the title that he held for so long, breaking his amazing winning streak. Alexey doesn’t seem too crushed at the idea of not toppling John’s rein. This is arm wrestling, you kind of have to work to make us invest in this.

Ultimatley, what will probably stick most with me about Pulling John will probably be all the times I giggled immaturely when one guy talked about “pulling” another. That’s not really a good sign. It’s not bad, just… zzzzzzzzzzz too boring to finish that thought.

This post was written by
Dan Schindel is a writer and editor. He lives and works in Los Angeles.
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