Bigger, Stronger, Faster*

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Morgan Spurlock should be thrilled about the new documentary “Bigger, Stronger, Faster*.” For while director Christopher Bell purports his movie is about the effects of steroid on society, BSF* follows the “Super Size Me” formula of being mostly about the director himself.

Don’t get me wrong. I loved “Super Size Me” when it came out, and I still think it’s a well-crafted work of selective documentary narrative, but the film, despite its inclusion of facts and figures, is about Morgan Spurlock first and foremost. Spurlock got an idea in his head, and he followed himself around seeing what conclusions he could come up about his theory. Ditto Bell, who also tackles a very serious social issue with humor and introspection, with similar success. Except this time, Bell doesn’t hog the spotlight all to himself, making BSF* a family affair. Along for this ride are brothers Mike (a.k.a. Mad Dog, a one-time WWF jobber) and Mark (a.k.a. Stinky, a powerlifter), and their parents.

As children of the 1980s, the Bell Brothers worshipped guys like Hulk Hogan, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone, and wanting, as Bell puts it, to crush the enemy and to hang and bang at Gold’s Gym in Venice. That drive to be as big and muscled as Rocky and The Terminator and The Hulkster, and to be successes on their fields of sports, drove Mike and Mark to steroids, while Chris himself steroids were never an option for him. And herein lies a major disturbance: all three Bell Brothers are indeed big and muscled, just like their childhood heroes, and Bell admits part of his drive for making this movie is over his own disappointment learning guys like Hulk and Ahnuld and Sly were indeed juicing up during the biggest parts of their careers. How can he claim to have eschewed the juice but still end up almost as muscular as his steroid-using brothersr

Bell asserts he is looking for the real truth about whether steroids can kill and cause the “roid rage” syndrome we always hear about in the media. He speaks with Congressmen and athletes, advocates for and against steroid use, and others with a vested interest in the topic, yet in the end, Bell answers none of the questions he presents. We get a very impassioned interview with Donald Hooten, who started the Tyler Hooten Foundation after the 2003 suicide of his son to fight steroid abuse. Mr. Hooten is very certain about what led to his son’s death, but comes off as a fervent zealot when Bell presents him with questions about alternate theories about why Tyler might have taken his own life. We feel sorry for the loss of his son, and Bell’s aggressive interview style with Mr. Hooten does feel uncomfortable at times, but Bell does ask some legitimate questions that deserve to be asked. Bell also speaks with Jeff Taylor, a gentleman who was diagnosed HIV-positive more than twenty-five years ago, who is still alive today, he believes, because he has had access to anabolic steroids to fight muscle waste that others did not have.

At the film’s heart, however, is the Bell family’s struggle with steroids. Both Mike and Mark are family men today, and both still use the juice, but they’ve hidden their use from their parents and others whom are lead to believe they achieved their bulk through more legitimate ways. It’s heartbreaking at times to see the levels of delusion and subterfuge both men need to keep their secrets. Yet it is surprising how honest they are to the camera about their steroid use, and yes, their emotions. It is likely if they were the subject of a movie by any other filmmaker in the world, that interviewer would get his head pounded in for some of the questions they are asked by their brother.

As a documentary about the steroid problem in America, Bell doesn’t excel in getting his questions answered, but he presents his polemic in a quick and effortless manner. He points out many hypocrisies on both sides of the issue, and his own duplicity. As a would-be Michael Moore-style interviewer, Bell needs some more work on his delivery and presentation. Sure, “Bigger, Stronger, Faster*” is an uneven documentary work, but hopefully it will help lead a more substantial dialogue about the topic of steroid use in our modern world.

Rating: B+