The first time we see arm wrestling icon John Brzenk (pronounced “bruh-zenk”) in this documentary that bears his name, he’s riding a motorcycle on a remote highway in his home state of Utah. The dramatic introduction is only fitting after the discussion leading up to it. Everybody featured throughout Pulling John mentions Brzenk (who has remained the world champion of arm wrestling for 25 years!) with wide-eyed wonderment and breathless awe. This includes the two co-stars of the film – young up-and-comers Alexy Voevoda and Travis Bagent – arm wrestlers who have dreamed of the moment they would be able to face the champion.
Travis Bagent – a quick talker from Charlestown, West Viriginia – and Alexy Voevoda – a stoic giant from Sochi, Russia – are always fun to watch. Most of the draw of this film comes from the sheer intensity with which each challenger believes in the sport and his own ability to reign supreme in the end, even against the legendary John Brzenk. Like the out-sized characters in the superior documentary King of Kong (which Pulling John compares itself to) Bagent and Voevoda are enjoyable screen presences.
The idea of a single person holding the title of world champion in any sport for 25 years is incredible to imagine and John Brzenk holds himself with the calm assuredness of a dominating force. Witnessing the arm wrestling competitions and interviews that take place in the film is a stirring reminder of human passion – none of the arm wrestlers are well compensated for their efforts (though Russia subsidizes arm wrestling competitors a bit). Even after 25 years as champion, Brzenk works a day job with an airline in order to obtain the free plane tickets to exotic arm wrestling locales. If that’s not dedication I don’t know what is.
For all the dialogue and build-up surrounding the sport of arm wrestling, I have to say that it remains a disappointingly anticlimactic sport – even once you’ve bought into the precept that the matches we are about to be shown are epic. It seems like the most drama that can take place in a match is that one challenger may pull away, requiring the two competitors to have their hands strapped together. Most matches end within a few seconds. This is surely high tension in the competition room but on film much of that excitement is lost. What keeps this film interesting, at least for its 72 minute running time, are the central characters.
The film release from IndiePix features a small graphic comic with the various characters from the film, as well as 50 minutes of additional footage.
Zach’s Rating: B-
Perfect For: Those especially interested in relatively unknown sports
Stay Away if: You’re looking for the excitement of Bigger, Faster, Stronger or the character development from King of Kong
To purchase Pulling John, visit Amazon