Sunday, October 7, 2012

No Holds Barred

It's obvious why World Wrestling Federation owner Vince McMahon and Hulk Hogan made No Holds Barred (1989). Made during the glory years of Hulkamania, the movie is a cynical attempt to cash in on the Hulk Hogan brand, but thankfully, the movie's reception proved you couldn't just slap Hulk Hogan onto any product and automatically sell it. McMahon has been credited with taking professional wrestling, with its seedy and violent public perception, and transforming it into a global, larger-than-life enterprise with cartoon characters aimed at children, and yet this foray into motion pictures is a scummy, mean-spirited, haphazard, and frankly out-of-touch endeavor. One thing's certain: whether you're a wrestling fan or not, you're not likely to enjoy No Holds Barred.

In the movie, Hulk Hogan is called Rip for some reason. I don't know why they couldn't have just kept calling him Hulk Hogan; he's essentially the same character: World Wrestling Federation champion, beloved icon to millions, and a role model to children (23 years later, the Hulk Hogan sex tape has just been released). After refusing an offer from Brell (Kurt Fuller at his slimy best), the head of a rival TV network, Rip becomes a target of the deranged tycoon. Brell sends hired goons after Rip, infiltrates a publicist (Joan Severance) to seduce him, and finally brings in the meanest monster in the land, Zeus (Tommy "Tiny" Lister) to destroy the All-American hero.

At its bare basics, the plot of No Holds Barred resembles many a classic wrestling angle. An evil manager like Bobby "The Brain" Heenan attempts to bribe the good guy who of course righteously refuses, and so the manager brings in a bigger, badder muscle like Andre the Giant to crush our hero. Of course, this really isn't anything you can't already see television, so the script throws in Brell's attempts to create a program to counter Rip, Rip's romance with the publicist,Rip's brother Randy getting beat up by Zeus, and a robbery that Rip foils at a diner.

All of this is played at a laughably simplistic level. Rip is such an obvious good guy, and Brell is obvious evil. Unlike 2008's The Wrestler, which showed the behind-the-scenes of a broken-down wrestler and did not hide the fact professional wrestling is staged, No Holds Barred tries to pass it off as "real." Everything is hilariously and ineptly overblown, and the resulting drama is just silly.

That's not the end of the movie's problems, though. Despite being pitched at this cartoon-like level, again presumably for kids, the movie is loaded with unsavory details and bottom-of-the-barrel, lowest-common-denominator elements. Brell's search for a monster to topple Rip takes him to these dirty bars filled with fat, stupid, toothless people and bathrooms containing overflowing urinals and nasty toilets. It's here where a big burly guy (wrestler Stan Hansen) intimidates two of Brell's cronies and refrains from beating them up after catching glimpses of their"teeny weenies." When Rip refuses Brell's offer, he's attacked by hired goons, and after fighting them off, Rip picks up the last guy who we can clearly see has crapped his pants. There's also a scene in which the publicist is attacked in attempted rape. The whole movie just feels sleazy, and given it's intended audience, that's inexcusable.

Hulk Hogan has an undeniable presence and charisma about in the squared circle, but on the silver screen, he's a bore. Presumably, No Holds Barred's intended audience are the Hulkamaniacs (Hogan's fans, for you non-wrestling fans), but there are surprisingly long stretches when the Hulkster is not on screen.When he is on, he's played off as a low-key, calm, everyday sort of guy, which is not what his fans want to see. He's just kind of lifeless. In fact, we only see two wrestling matches featuring him, at the beginning and end. With his massively muscled physique and shaved head, Zeus is an imposing figure, at least until you notice his lazy eye and uni-brow; then you realize he'd have been better as a henchman for Dr. Evil. Only Fuller as Brell brings any life to the movie; he's hilariously over-the-top and just unapologetically evil. Clearly, he's meant to be a parallel to, or at least partly inspired by, Vince McMahon's competitor Ted Turner, who eventually did lure Hogan to his company World Championship Wrestling, a few years after this movie, but if anything, Brell comes off more like a McMahon himself: a power-hungry, maniacal, cold-hearted businessman.

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