Title: No Holds Barred
Year of Release: 1989
Date Viewed: August 1st, 2010
MPAA Rating: PG-13
I'm a little afraid that this review will send a bad message so I'd like to make something clear first. I think it's great when people try new things. The only way to truly know yourself is to step out of your comfort zone and explore what does and doesn't work for you. There have however been some experiments in history that have gone so wrong that you almost wished they had never even been attempted.
In the 1980s, Hulk Hogan was a gold mine for Vince Mcmahon's World Wrestling Entertainment (formerly known as the World Wrestling Federation) promotion. His image was everywhere. You name it. Television commercials, Sports Illustrated magazine covers, talk show appearances, breakfast cereals, lunchboxes, teddy bears, action figures, t-shirts.....the list goes on. Hogan helped McMahon turn wrestling into a marketing empire. There was no end in sight.
But here's the thing with Vince McMahon. He never seems content with simply operating a wrestling organization. He always wants something more. He wants to be synonymous not just with wrestling but entertainment as a whole.
In 1988, McMahon felt that the time was right to bring Hulkamania to the big screen. This would be his chance to open some doors in Hollywood and give Hulk Hogan a vehicle to showcase his natural charisma outside of a city arena.
Hogan had been in the movies once before back in 1982 when he acted alongside Sylvester Stallone in Rocky III. This time would be different. Now he had top billing and was expected to draw in crowds through his own power and McMahon's marketing campaign.
The historic film was titled No Holds Barred and released to the public in 1989. Was the experiment a success? Let's just say that a lesson should have been learned here.
In the film, Hulk Hogan plays a wrestler named Rip. See, that's already a mistake right there. In the very first scene, Rip is introduced to the enthusiastic crowd by ring announcer Howard Finkel at a World Wrestling Federation event. The two television commentators Gene Okerlund and Jesse Ventura are in awe at Rip's showmanship. Basically everything in this scene mirrors a typical presentation of McMahon's company as if it's set in the real world, yet only Hogan has to change his identity. Why not just call him Hulk Hogan? Who are they trying to kid?
Everyone seems to love Rip except for Brell (Kurt Fuller), the evil owner of the World Television Network. Brell's network is suffering dangerously low ratings and he is convinced that the only solution to bring them back up is to acquire the services of Rip. After pitching him an offer, Rip declines Brell's contract citing loyalty to his current network contract. Finding this intolerable, Brell goes off on a search for the next big face in sports entertainment (You're welcome, Vince.).
He stumbles upon the barbaric underground sport of street fighting. Seeing dollar signs, Brell organizes his own street fighting contest to air exclusively on his network. The tournament is dubbed the "Battle of the Tough Guys." Really? He has a whole team of consultants and this was the best name they could come up with? No wonder nobody takes his network seriously.
The winner of the contest is an enormous monster of a man called Zeus (Tommy "Tiny" Lister). He has no personality save for his compulsive appetite of destroying everything and everyone in sight. Brell takes Zeus under his wing and challenges Rip to fight the monstrous gladiator on live television. Rip once again refuses. Desperate to pull off the publicity stunt, Brell abducts Rip's brother Randy (Mark Pellegrino) and orders Zeus to beat him within an inch of his life. Rip's marketing manager Samantha (Joan Severance) is also abducted and has her life hanging in the balance. Now that the feud has become personal, Rip finally agrees to fight Zeus in a no-holds-barred grudge match to avenge Randy's injuries.
You really can't expect much from a film like this. The best case scenario would be getting treated to some exaggerated fight scenes and maybe a corny good triumphing over evil story. Rocky IV had enough self-awareness to pull that off successfully. On paper, No Holds Barred was not set up much differently. So why does it fail? Simple. No Holds Barred was hopeless from the start.
The story never finds a pace that it's comfortable with and too many scenes were thrown in for no good reason.
Pro wrestling is generally viewed as a cartoonish art form and its fans (myself included) embrace it for that very reason. No Holds Barred ups the cartoonish level to such unfathomable heights that even the most immature fan in the world would be embarrassed to be caught watching this. In Hogan's first fight scene outside of the wrestling ring, his character leaps through the roof of a limousine like a whack-a-mole from hell. Then he disposes of his network attackers while grunting and growling like a sick guard dog. One of his opponents trembles in such fear that he literally craps his pants. This kind of humor usually only appeals to young kids, but it's completely out of place in a PG-13 film.
The character of Randy reminds me of Timmy from South Park minus the wheelchair and mental handicaps. His only role in the movie is to overact his heart out in hopes that the audience will feel sorry for Rip once his plot device is triggered.
There is a romance angle with no build-up or logic involving Rip and Samantha. These two have absolutely no chemistry and not a single scene featuring their conversations are convincing.
Even more pointless is watching the misadventures of Brell's consultants sticking out like a sore thumb at the streetfighting events. The venues are dirty and populated with beefed up brawlers that look like rejects from Over the Top. A pair of consultants are comically stalked by one of the fighters who catches them relieving their bladders at an overfilled urinal and making jokes about how small their penises are. This observation makes one of the consultants so nervous that he accidentally tinkles on his colleague.
I can't believe I just typed that.
But hey, none of this horsing around matters, right? All everyone really wants to see is Hulk Hogan beating up the bad guy. After all, that's how he and McMahon got so rich in the first place. Well, even that part was botched. The final fight is butchered with so much choppy editing that the audience is never given a chance to enjoy it. Every five seconds of action is interrupted by one of three different things. Brell screaming at Zeus to hit Rip harder, Samantha running away from her kidnappers and Randy reacting to each punch thrown. All those cutaways are cover-ups for the movie's inability to choreograph an exciting fight scene.
You might also wonder why Rip didn't just call the police or file a lawsuit against Brell for charges of kidnapping and assault. Referencing pro wrestling tradition, scores are always settled in the ring instead of the courtroom. It's one of the few things this movie got right.
Rather than trying to be like a Rocky Balboa film, No Holds Barred would have been better off acting as an extended episode of Saturday Night's Main Event. Its primary audience was wrestling fans anyway. So why alienate them like this?
To coincide with the film's release, McMahon's company ran an angle where the actor who played Zeus became so disgruntled on the set that he started appearing on World Wrestling Federation telecasts as Zeus and claimed that he could beat Hogan for real. Zeus wrestled a total of three matches for the company, all tag team matches. There was a fourth match planned for Wrestlemania VI that was to feature Hulk Hogan versus Zeus in a one-on-one contest as the main event. That idea was scrapped probably due to Zeus' limited wrestling ability.
Dennis Hackin was credited as the movie's screenwriter even though his script was rejected. McMahon and Hogan rewrote the entire script themselves and their revised version is what translated into the final product. I don't know what is scarier. How much the movie failed to entertain or how much worse it could have been.