Saturday, March 1, 2014

No Holds Barred - 1989

"No Holds Barred" - 1989
Dir. by Thomas J. Wright - 1 hr. 33 min.

Home Video Re-Release Trailer (2012)

by Clayton Hollifield

You know how there are bad movies?  Well, "No Holds Barred" certainly qualifies.  It's so bad that it crosses into the double negative zone where it actually becomes somewhat enjoyable again.  Not by design of course; this film was a shot at turning star Hulk Hogan into a legit bad-ass crossover star, which is the same impulse that has yielded such films as "Spice World" and "Cool as Ice."  And I can't even blame the awful action on "Hollywood" not getting it; the executive producers were Hulk Hogan and Vince McMahon.  But 1989 was a really weird time for the then-WWF and professional wrestling, in general, which is part of the reason for the tortured logic of the plot here (which I'll get to in a few sentences here), which is part of why "No Holds Barred" is such a bizarre film.

Rip (Hulk Hogan) is king of the world, A-number-one.  He's the champ of the WWF, and disposes with his opponents with ease (including Bill Eadie, better known as part of the tag team Demolition) with his brother Randy (Mark Pellegrino), who got all the lovely feathered blond hair and none of the muscles in the family, by his side.  In fact, Rip is such a success that a rival network owner, Brell (Kurt Fuller) decides that Rip must on his network instead, contracts be damned.  Rip doesn't like the smell of what Brell is cooking, and turns him down by jamming a blank check into Brell's mouth and storming out.  Brell decides instead to hold a tough-man competition after visiting a sleazy bar that features random brutes fighting in a makeshift ring (plus some dude giving tattoos in the background), with a cash prize of $100,000.  Brell has also sent a spy, the lovely Samantha (Joan Severance), who is confusingly also seemingly in charge of Rip at the network he's contracted to.  Hulk likey.  In the tournament, a random giant dude named Zeus ("Tiny" Lister) shows up out of nowhere, and starts beating the hell out of everyone.  Since Rip's trainer used to train Zeus before Zeus went all loco, and Brell still wants Rip on his network, Brell starts tormenting Rip, goading him into a giant fight with Zeus.

There's a lot that's really silly about this movie, but let's do the good stuff first.  First off, there is literally nothing in the world that I love more than seeing actors pull off wrestling moves in the middle of movie fights.  Hulk never drops a leg on anyone, but his character's finisher is a double axe-handle, which he dishes out liberally.  Secondly, there is one thing that Vince McMahon and Hulk Hogan were ahead of the curve on: muscles.  Specifically, muscles in action movies.  Even the guys of that era who were pretty muscly still would be put to shame by Hugh Jackman in any of the Wolverine movies.  There was pretty much Arnold, Sly, and then everyone else.  It may have seemed weird at the time to fetishize the male physique in such a blatant way (Hulk appears in running shorts, sleeveless spandex outfits, bikini briefs, and is frequently shirtless), but twenty-five years later, you literally cannot have an action movie without a chemically-enhanced, kettle-bell built star.  I'm not saying that Hulk and Vince pioneered that, I'm saying they were way ahead of the curve on this front.

But this movie comes from the kayfabe era, and that means that the whole plot is based on a shaky foundation.  Since they couldn't really admit the action was staged, but most of the people involved weren't capable of convincing stage combat, they just did wrestling stuff and assumed the audience would be fine with it.  Since they couldn't reveal the actual structure of how wrestling promotions were run (I mean, how would you explain someone who was in charge of booking matches without also explaining that they needed someone to make sure the stories made sense, without also explaining that they were creating stories?), we get an evil network executive, and the plot in general seems to be a take-off on "The Running Man."  The bad guys in "No Holds Barred" do illegal stuff all the time (like Brell back-handing Samantha, or roughing up Rip's brother, Randy), but the police don't seem to exist, or at least they're not interested in any of it.  And maybe the worst part (at least for anyone who's familiar with Hulk Hogan's career) is that Rip isn't allowed to show any weaknesses at all, and the only hope for Zeus (who is portrayed as an unstoppable monster heel) to defeat Rip is to mess with his brother, which bums out the Hulkster something awful, and to kidnap his girl, which bums him out even worse.  Otherwise, he's the kind of guy who beats everyone, stops robberies by hurling pies at the stick-up men, is conversant in both French and French cuisine, and donates his time liberally to charity.

I'm pretty sure that no one figured that "No Holds Barred" was going to be aimed at a discerning audience, and sure enough, me and my sister did go see it in the theatre when it came out.  But I was in middle school at the time, so I'm claiming an asterisk on that one.  This is by no means a good movie.  It's an absurd movie, one that couldn't have happened even a couple of years later (Vince McMahon admitting wrestling was predetermined for a tax break, a looming steroid trial that involved both McMahon and Hogan, and the periodic downturn of the wrestling industry were factors that would soon come into play), it's goofy and cartoony as hell.  But I did laugh, over and over again.  I'm sure I didn't react the way everyone hoped audiences would react, and if you don't have any affinity for pro wrestling or nostalgia for this era, your mileage is definitely going to vary.

"What's that smell?"

That smell is dookie, in case you were wondering.

1 / 5 - Streaming

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