- The Washington Times - Friday, June 6, 2008

Documentary director Christopher Bell holds a grudge against Hulk Hogan, Arnold Schwarzenegger and every other 1980s-era action hero.

Those muscle-bound icons, more often than not, used steroids to feed their bulging biceps. In “Bigger, Stronger, Faster,” Mr. Bell lands a pile driver on all of the above before turning his sights on our steroid-addicted nation.

It’s all very Michael Moore-ish in the best of ways. Quick edits. First-person narration. Using humor to hammer home his point.

Yet although Mr. Bell and his two brothers, featured prominently here, are all serious weight lifters, the director is no dumbbell.

He uses the steroid boogeyman to build a fascinating case against a culture that prizes winning above all else - and too often excuses cheaters with a wink.

The Bell brothers started hitting the weight room in their teenage years. They wanted to get bigger, first and foremost. Though Christopher Bell felt ambivalent about just what might be required to get massive, his brothers harbored no such misgivings.

That, of course, led them to steroids.

Meanwhile, “Bigger” examines some of the well-charted territory in the steroids debate, including the Mark McGwire-Sammy Sosa home-run chase and Olympic runner Ben Johnson.

Mr. Bell isn’t content with superficial arguments, though. Instead, he pores over reams of documents, such as emergency-room statistics, to find out just how dangerous steroid abuse really is.

His answers will surprise you, and the data send his documentary into increasingly fertile directions.

Why don’t we protest when Tiger Woods uses eye surgery to render his vision perfect, but moan when a slugger takes a pill to pad his home-run totals? How can a culture that defends alcohol use, supplements and other over-the-counter aids cry foul over steroids? Just how many people actually die from steroid abuse?

The depth of research is impressive, as are the candid remarks Mr. Bell coaxes from his interview subjects. Mr. Bell unwisely gives too much screen time to a man whose biceps are the size of Popeye’s forearms. The fellow’s physique is an eye-popper, but his musings on steroids add nothing to the debate.

“Bigger” loses focus in its final reel, as Mr. Bell takes too much time examining the world of supplements. A few clumsy swipes at President Bush also do the film no favors.

Mr. Bell’s aggressive stance toward California’s governator is more illuminating. It also leads to the funniest scene in the movie.

The film’s arresting thread remains the Bell family. Mama Bell clearly loves her beefy boys, but her life lessons often revolve around junk food. Father Bell offers more wisdom, but what made the Bell boys cling to the Hulk Hogan mind-set in the first place? “Bigger, Stronger, Faster” doesn’t answer that question, but it does get closer to answering bigger questions about the nation’s unhealthy relationship with steroids.

***

TITLE: “Bigger, Stronger, Faster”

RATING: PG:13 (Action-movie violence and some adult language)

CREDITS: Directed by Christopher Bell. Written by Mr. Bell, Alex Buono and Tamsin Rawady.

RUNNING TIME: 106 minutes

WEB SITE: http://www.biggerstrongerfastermovie.com/

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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