Nick Tag as John Weld in The Remarkable Life of John Weld (Photo: Multicom)

★½ (out of four)
STARS Nick Tag, Darren Kendrick

If John Weld did indeed enjoy a remarkable life, one wouldn’t know it from watching the new documentary The Remarkable Life of John Weld.

Certainly, the life sounds remarkable: Over the course of his 98 years on this planet, Weld was a Hollywood stuntman, a published author, a Herald Tribune reporter in Paris during the roaring ‘20s, the founder and publisher of his own small-town newspaper, a friend of Oscar-winning actors Clark Gable and Walter Huston, an acquaintance of James Joyce and Pancho Barnes, and (OK, not as exciting) a copywriter for Ford Motor Company.

There’s a lot of intriguing material here, but the reality is that there’s not enough of it in concrete form to make an entire motion picture. Even at a brief 77 minutes, much of the film feels padded, as actual footage of John Weld proves to be rather limited. Thus, we get an odd mix of talking heads to discuss his life — not just family members but also the custodian of Pancho Barnes’ estate and an “entertainment industry life coach,” among others — and let’s just say few provide the depth or insights one typically finds in show-biz ruminations of this nature (in other words, TCM won’t be replacing Ben Mankiewicz or Martin Scorsese in their rotation any time soon).

Worse than the interviews, though, are the dramatic recreations that take up the bulk of the running time. These are shockingly amateurish in nature, packed with stilted performances and leaden dialogue. When the words being spoken aren’t wince-inducing, they’re eyeball-rolling: One scene finds Weld (played as a young man by Nick Tag and as an older man by Darren Kendrick) telling Clark Gable (Jaydon Walker) that he won’t make it as a movie star because his name is too “namby-pamby for a marquee” and his “ears stick out too far.” More time is eventually spent dramatizing Weld’s romantic travails than on his globe-trotting adventures — important for him, of course, but hardly “remarkable” stuff when it comes to viewers having to sit through these tepidly depicted interludes.

A certain sloppiness permeates the entire production. Aside from two silent features — 1924’s Folly of Vanity and 1925’s Lazybones, the latter in which Weld donned a dress to double for Zasu Pitts for a dangerous stunt — none of his films are identified. The movie states that he doubled for Charlie Chaplin and John Barrymore, but in what? (Curiously, Weld doesn’t even have an IMDb page.) So much of what is related by the interviewees and the fine actor Peter Coyote (here providing the narration, usually speaking as Weld himself) is unsubstantiated to the point that it’s tempting to believe the lily of his life is occasionally being gilded. At the very least, though, there’s no reason to believe Weld’s great nephew is incorrect when he states in the film that Weld was born in Hendersonville, North Carolina, even though every obit at the time of his death in 2003 — including ones in the Los Angeles Times and Weld’s own newspaper (the Laguna Beach Post) — claimed that he was born in Birmingham, Alabama (ditto a definitive book on Hollywood stunt performers and Weld’s Wikipedia page).

John Weld’s life was already captured in his own autobiography, 1991’s Fly Away Home: Memoirs of a Hollywood Stunt Man. That book contains many more adventures and anecdotes than seen in The Remarkable Life of John Weld (including some reportedly controversial ones that obviously didn’t make it into this cinematic celebration), meaning that it’s probably best if film fans go by the book and go buy the book rather than watch this surface-skimming documentary.

(The Remarkable Life of John Weld is now available on Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, and other platforms.)

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