In 1977, the documentary "Pumping Iron" helped to provide a degree of legitimacy to the fringe sporting endeavor of professional bodybuilding. A great deal of that film's success was due to its focus on Arnold Schwarzenegger, the reigning bodybuilding champ who was trying (with little success at the time) to cross over into a movie career. Thanks to "Pumping Iron," Schwarzenegger's off-beat personality received the attention needed to propel him out of the borderline-obscurity of bodybuilding into greater visibility in Hollywood action films.
Schwarzenegger makes a fleeting appearance in the new documentary "Generation Iron," which focuses on the current breed of bodybuilding champions. Sadly, none of the XL-sized guys has a shred of Schwarzenegger's charisma. One of the competitors featured here, Brooklyn-born Kai Greene, provides a substantial dose of sincerity in recounting how his focus on bodybuilding saved him from the perils of a troubled childhood in foster homes. But most of the men featured here are so lacking in warmth, wit and emotion that one has to question whether there are any champion bodybuilders capable of carrying a conversation.
Filmmaker Vlad Yudin also makes the grave error of tiptoeing around some of the more harsh elements of bodybuilding, namely steroid usage and the extreme dietary needs required to maintain such oversized physiques. Also not dwelled upon is the basic question of money: A few of the competitors featured here appear to be living in luxurious lifestyles, but it is unclear just how they are able to support themselves and their families through bodybuilding -- especially since this endeavor is notorious for its relatively low financial rewards.
Die-hard gym rats might enjoy viewing their bulky heroes in this cinematic setting. But for those with little or no interest in the subject, the film will fail to bring converts into the fold.
Directed by Vlad Yudin
Documentary, 107 minutes, PG-13
Anchor Bay Entertainment, $24.98 (DVD)