Nether Regions 04.05.12: No Holds Barred
Nether Regions started as a segment of the Big Screen Bulletin in the movie-zone that meant to showcase films that have been discontinued on DVD, are out of print in the United States, are only available in certain regions outside the United States, or are generally hard to find. Now it is a column all its own! You might ask, “Why should I care about a film I have no access to?” My goal is to keep these films relevant because some of them genuinely deserve to be recognized. Every time I review a new film I will have a list of those I covered below so you can see if they have been announced for DVD release, or are still out of print.
NO HOLDS BARRED
Starring: Hulk Hogan, Kurt Fuller, and Tiny Lister
Before WWE was World Wrestling Entertainment and established their own film division, they were the World Wrestling Federation and 1989’s No Holds Barred was their first official foray into the realm of cinema. Most of the movies WWE pumps out these days forgettable pieces of junk, and if you were scarred from John Cena in The Marine, you might be catatonic following this Hulk Hogan catastrophe. After Hogan made a memorable debut in Rocky III, it would be 7 years before returning to the big screen. The WWF needed to boost his acting career. How would you do that? Turn him into a professional wrestler named Rip of course, a good-natured chap who does plenty of charity work, uses a weird hand gesture, and wears entirely too much spandex.
When I was very young, and possessed only a casual interest in movies, I did not know what “terrible” was. From my perspective, this was a new wrestling actioner starring one of my idols, Hulk Hogan. I was not unlike many kids of that era. I worshipped Hogan, so much so that despite all the crazy things he says or any of the ridiculous shenanigans he is involved with, he will still be one of my heroes to a certain extent. I tuned in every Sunday for WWE Superstars to admire Hulk, had the action figures, yellow tank top, and even a wrestling buddy. So when I had access to this movie, I forced my poor father to rent it on numerous occasions until I could properly buy a copy. In my mind, No Holds Barred was brilliant and endlessly fascinating. How my Dad survived my persistent screenings of this, Masters of the Universe, and Over the Top is a mystery for the ages.
Obviously a great deal has happened since I was an oblivious little Hulkamaniac, so I am well aware how atrocious No Holds Barred is, but I do feel it passes the pit of genuinely unwatchable and lands in the pile of garbage that is awful, yet a joy to make fun of. Reviewing a title like that stirs feelings of nostalgia proves to be both easy and hard. Writing about this in a humorous tone is a piece of cake, but rating is somewhat of a challenge. How do you put a number to a movie that you loved as a kid, know is horrendous now, but can still watch it? Well, sometimes you just have to concede defeat that no matter how special a title is to you, one must come to grips with its shortcomings, or in the case of No Holds Barred, its glaring, gaping, penetrating flaws.
Vince McMahon is listed as a Producer, while Hogan has an Executive Producer credit. Below them we have Thomas J. Wright directing from a script by Dennis Hackin. I’d love for someone to interview everyone about this project to see how much Wright was actually “directing” and how much McMahon and Hogan were flying by the seat of their pants. One of them has an affinity for dramatic entrances. Our tale starts with a semi-silhouette of Hogan busting through a door and waving his face and hair back and forth. Then he’s on his way to the ring as Rip, who yells, “Rip ‘Em!” and uses a distinctive hand signal way too much. He is accompanied by his brother Randy (Mark Pellegrino), who looks like a shrimp by comparison and his trainer, Charlie (Bill Henderson). Hogan don’t need know trainer! The fact that he can’t wrestle without them by his side makes him look weak in my opinion, but I digress. He’s wrestling Jake Bullet, a scary looking fella whom you might remember as Ax (Bill Eadie), one-half of the tag-team Demolition. During Hogan’s actual entrance, his music would be blaring and when he ripped his shirt, it induced a huge reaction. When Rip tears his shirt, we can hear Hogan grunting as he carries out this ritual, which sounds weird. The match doesn’t last long. Rip goes for the big boot and then the big l…wait, the double axe-hammer? For some reason, his finisher is the double axe-hammer instead of the one Hogan was recognized for.
As the match goes on, we meet Brell (Kurt Fuller), the head of the World Television Network. He wants better ratings, and no other idea will satisfy him except for acquiring Rip. Unfortunately for him, Rip is loyal to his fans and the nameless network which screens all of his matches. He declines, but is forced to reconsider after Brell hands him a blank check. Rip leaves after stuffing the check down Brell’s throat. Brell’s stooges are attending to him, but Rip still decided to flash the Rip ‘Em sign to the camera. Brell calls “The Garage,” which involves a planted limo driver locking Rip in and going to an abandoned garage where a handful of thugs are waiting to teach Rip a lesson. Rip will not take any of this, so he destroys the inside of the limo on the way, which sends the driver swerving all over the road. That’s how hard he hits everyone. Limousines beware! When they arrive at “The Garage,” Rip erupts through the roof of the limo primed to attack. Whenever I’m angry, I jump and crash through the roof of my vehicle. Everyone can do it, right? He disposes of the mediocre hitmen fast, and proceeds to grab the limo driver, which ends with the follow unforgettable exchange. Rip: “What’s that SMELL?!” Driver: “doo…doo…Dookie!”
Brell has not settled with the fact that Rip will not move to his network, so he sets out to discover someone else. Instead of going to martial arts dojos or body builder gyms, he thinks that traveling to the filthiest, most disgusting bars imaginable will be the resting place of his next bright star. With his two faithful lackeys accompanying him, he observes a sort of fighting contest involving random drunken hillbillies battling inside a ring that is surrounded by regular rope and tires for turnbuckles. The toughest of these individuals has no name. He is the brother of the sole waitress. On IMDB he is listed as Neanderthal, but he is actually Stan Hansen, a terrific pro wrestler who, puzzlingly was not nominated for any awards here for spitting tobacco, scratching his balls, and having toilet paper sticking from his rear end. After being so impressed with the crowd response to these brawls, Brell launches his own show, using one of the most creative, ingenious titles ever: Battle of the Tough Guys. He invites any man willing, and the winner will receive prize money. Then a mysterious figure arrives at the dump this is going down in. He knocks down a whole wall to enter and even assaults a waitress by picking her up with one hand and dropping her into a barrel of peanuts. That’s right, No Holds Barred pulls no punches. Violence against women? Check. He annihilates everyone, and announces his name with a whisper: Zeus.
his own check.
Meanwhile, romance and comedy hijinks ensue when Rip is assigned a new Account Executive to represent him, Samantha (Joan Severance). She doesn’t do a whole lot of work, but tags along with him everywhere. Eventually, Brell has Zeus challenge Rip. When Rip refuses to acknowledge him, Brell goes out of his way to anger the Ripster and lure him into finally facing Zeus on his terms. He does this by smacking around Samantha, putting Randy in the hospital, and embarrassing Rip in front of small children. I’m sure you have no clue how this will play out. I could go on describing numerous details of the plot because it is a hilarious train wreck to endure, but I will just list some of my personal observations and “favorite” moments:
*Rip (with Samantha) visits his friend Sadie who works at a diner. Of course it’s robbed while he’s there, and to fool the criminals, he throws foot at them, trashes the restaurant, and is then applauded.
*Zeus has an unhealthy obsession with screaming as a means of communicating. Not sure why.
*What kind of universe is this when “Zeus: A Thriller or Killer?” makes front-page Sports newspaper headlines?
*Rip leering at Samantha during her first presentation is creepy and left a permanent impression on my poor brain.
*Rip can speak French and is apparently well-known at foreign restaurants. Things you didn’t know about the Hulkster.
*This is still the only movie where I have heard the term “jock-ass” used.
*David Paymer’s character Ugner refers to peeing as “bleeding the old lizard.” I found this hysterical when I was little.
*Why did Randy go to see Zeus fight when he could just watch it on TV? In a Rip t-shirt no less! Be reasonable sir!
*Why do all the seedy places Zeus competes at have flames and/or sparks shooting from somewhere?
*Does the WWE still have the ring mat with Zeus’ name on it (featured in the gym trashing sequence), and if so, how much would it cost?
*During the final climactic match, why didn’t anyone call the cops after Zeus tried to impale Rip with a broken ring post?
Hulk Hogan has never been the best actor, on television or in movies, but he embarrasses himself here. Even the scenes where he basically has to replicate his shtick as the Hogan character are exaggerated just a little too passionately. All the sequences outside of the ring are laughable and cringe-worthy, such as the multiple fade outs featuring a grim expression on Rip’s face, Rip crying at Randy’s bedside, or Hogan trying to be a believable love interest. To Hogan’s credit, he would improve at least a smidgen over time. His films were still agonizing (3 Ninjas: High Noon at Mega Mountain, Mr. Nanny), but he developed his timing. As Rip, his performance is clumsy, silly, and dated, which is a head scratcher considering how closely this resembles his then WWF persona. 1989 was a big year for his co-star Joan Severance. Along with this, she appeared in See No Evil, Hear No Evil with Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder, not to mention quite a few TV shows. Dare I analyze the chemistry or lack thereof between Rip and Samantha? Well, there is none. Whew, case closed. Severance was never the most convincing actress, but she was attractive, which is probably why she resorted to soft porn B-movies in the 90’s. As Samantha she is as dreadfully goofy as the rest of the cast.
There is only one person who escapes this travesty with his dignity in tact and that is Kurt Fuller. He gives the most over the top, scenery-chewing performance in history, and I don’t say that lightly. His maniacal expression, bursts of yelling, cackling laughter, wild eyes, and suspenseful pauses between lines makes for a turn funnier than the majority of legit comedies out there. What makes him so amusing is that Fuller is dead serious in the role. I doubt many would argue that his approach is tongue-in-cheek, but this is sincere overacting to the extreme. Whenever I see Fuller in anything, the evil Brell springs back to mind instantly. His executive subordinates, Ordway and Unger, and portrayed comically by Charles Levin and David Paymer, the latter of which has appeared in many efforts over the years, notably City Slickers. If there is one role that WWE/F got right, it’s Zeus. Tony “Tiny” Lister has few lines, which was wise because his primary asset is normally standing around looking intimidating. What the story needed to accomplish was finding a foe that could believably pose a threat to Hogan…err Rip, whatever. Lister’s Zeus is at least scary, especially for young Hogan fans at the time. I mean come on, look at those fierce looking black Z’s on the side of his noggin.
Zeus is not
fond of Rip.
Director Thomas J. Wright stuck predominantly with television after No Holds Barred, which should not be a shock. Fans of Castle, Bones, and Smallville were probably not aware that the same Thomas Wright who stood at the helm for many episodes of those shows also gave us No Holds Barred. He should have been treated like a celebrity damnit! I can only guess, but his main objective must have been to point and shoot. He couldn’t have worked with the actors that ponderously to obtain a certain performance because they are all way out of whack. His style is plain and straightforward, and is only flashy on a couple of occasions. Dennis Hackin, the screenwriter, only contributed two more projects after this until disappearing completely from Hollywood. It would seem he suffered the most from this treat. Jim Johnston’s synthesizer geared music, like the costumes, are excruciatingly 80’s. No, I’m sorry to report that No Holds Barred has not aged well folks.
I do not know for sure if Vince McMahon and Hulk Hogan wanted people to see Ted Turner and WCW in Brell’s World Television Network, but the parallels are there. I suppose it’s really intriguing then that Hogan would eventually go to a rival network. That could have been the sequel, but alas, it was not to be. Stripped to its most basic traits, No Holds Barred was a pro-wrestling adventure on the big screen instead of the small screen. McMahon and company were attempting to translate a WWF storyline into a movie, which he assumed is all fans would desire. But what works as TV, is not the same in a movie theater. This was more of a PG-themed era, but there is plenty of colorful language, a female in her under garments, attempted rape, and some crazy factory worker named Lugwrench Perkins. Can’t say I was traumatized when I was 7, but parents would have a field day this with now.
No Holds Barred debuted at #2 behind Indiana Jones and the Last Crusdade with approximately $5 million. The budget was $8 million, and since Vinnie Mac financed it, he would break even with a total gross of $16.1 million. In the fall of 1997, during the Monday Night wars, McMahon joked about the movie: “Hogan promised me that if the movie lost money he was gonna return his salary. I guess the check is still in the mail.” At the time, Hogan was releasing the movie Assault on Devil’s Island. NHB led to a feud between Hogan and Zeus in the WWF. There was a match with Hogan and Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake taking on Zeus and Randy “Macho Man” Savage at the 1989 Summerslam event. The rivalry culminated with the same tag teams going at it inside a steel cage. This pay per-viee engagement was billed as “No Holds Barred: The Match/The Movie” with a showing of the film followed by the match, which was pre-recorded for a WWF Wrestling Challenge VHS.
The amount of scenes, dialogue, and so on that make No Holds Barred dumb are endless, but overall, the mistake was in turning Zeus into a life-threatening opponent instead of just one that was bigger and stronger. The conclusion is as ridiculous as it gets. Had they pulled back and went with Zeus as a tall mountain for Rip to climb, the movie might not be as moronic. I admit that my inner youth still loves this but I also can’t deny that it’s bad. This article comes after the announcement that No Holds Barred will hit DVD on July 3rd. And because a friend suggested it, I can now say I have reviewed this movie. Lucky me.
Final Rating = 4.0/10.0
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Cavalcade – Available in the 20th Century Fox 75th Anniversary box set
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“The plural of Chad is Chad?”
–From the movie Recount