No Holds Barred (1989)
NO HOLDS BARRED
Review by Gnoll
Every now and again, the world of cinema delivers to us an icon. This icon exemplifies the finest that Hollywood has to offer: rugged good looks, unmistakable charm, and universal appeal. These icons are the pinnacle of Tinseltown, and are held in high regard by film enthusiasts the world over.
Cary Grant. James Stewart. Paul Newman. Robert Redford. Robert De Niro. Tom Hanks. Hulk Hogan. These are names that conjure up visions of cinematic masterpieces, complete with…
Wait, wait, wait. Who snuck that last name in there? Hulk Hogan? Shit, I can’t keep this charade up. There ain’t no way I can even pretend that the Hulkster has any place scrubbing cineplex toilets, much less packing people into its theaters. But yet, somehow, Hogan has made somewhat of a splash in the world of motion pictures. Granted, it’s one of those splashes that results from slipping off the diving board rather than a graceful dive, but it’s a splash nonetheless.
Hogan got his start in a fairly respectable manner, playing Thunderlips, the Ultimate Male in ROCKY III, but the acting bug never let go of him from that point on. While Hogan was unable to make too much of a dent in Hollywood right away due to the fact that he was rallying wrestling crowds worldwide behind the phenomenon of Hulkamania, eventually the man born Terry Bollea was afforded the opportunity to get a shot at his first starring role: 1989’s NO HOLDS BARRED.
WWF (now WWE) head honcho Vince McMahon cooked up the idea for Hogan to star in this monstrosity of a B-Movie, in which Hogan would be treading on familiar ground — playing a pro wrestler. And for months before its release, you couldn’t watch five minutes of a WWF program on television without the announcers shilling the hell out of this thing. But the question here is whether or not NO HOLDS BARRED (A Hulk Hogan joint) is any good.
Okay, you probably already know the answer to that, but we’ll go ahead and review the thing anyway.
In this fine, fine film, Hogan stars as Rip, a balding, blonde-haired, handlebar-moustached, headband-wearing, shirt-ripping, ultimate good guy WWF Champion. Real stretch for the guy, huh? The only real differences here are that Rip wears blue and white instead of red and yellow, and he has a younger brother named Randy who accompanies him to ringside. Whether or not this is a coincidence is up in the air, but rival wrestling federation WCW once had a “jobber” (regular loser) named Randy Hogan who appeared on television every week as a short, out-of-shape version of the Hulkster. Rip and Randy don’t appear to have a last name, either.
Rip has a familiar hand gesture that looks like he’s throwing gang signs, which is generally accompanied by his catchphrase: “Rip ‘Em”. Clever, huh? As our film begins, Rip is set to defend his WWF title against the #1 contender, Jake Bullet. Jake kind of looks like Ogre from REVENGE OF THE NERDS with a fresh shave and some eye makeup. Rip is being taken down by Jake, but when he sees Randy give him the “Rip ‘Em” sign, Rip “hulks up” and easily disposes of his challenger.
But Jake was just the beginning of Rip’s worries. Mr. Brell, the head of a rival television network to whichever one Rip is contracted to, is sick of Rip beating him in the ratings. Brell also has an insult tailor-made for the Ripster, “Jock-ass!” Brell makes Rip an offer he can’t refuse, but Rip does anyway. Brell gives him a blank check to persuade him to come over, but Rip shoves it down Brell’s throat. Brell isn’t satisfied with this answer, so he hires Rip’s limo driver to kidnap him. Rip gets pissed and starts kicking the doors so hard that the car starts swerving. I’m not kidding you. The limo driver manages to get Rip into a parking garage, where Rip escapes through the roof of the limo and disposes of a dozen or so thugs before assualting the limo driver. The driver is so scared that he shits his pants — literally — and to make matters worse, when Rip starts barking at him (and I do mean barking; he sounds like a rabid dog) about what smells so bad, the driver responds by calling it “dookie”.
Rip goes to a meeting for his network, where they discuss potential marketing strategies and other nonsense. Rip is enchanted by a lovely new exec named Sam, played by Joan Severance. Rip acts very unprofessional during the meeting, checking out Sam’s backside as she walks, and he ain’t even being subtle about it. I guess this film takes place before they called stuff like that “sexual harassment”. Sam takes Rip out to a fancy dinner at a French restaurant to talk some more business, but they encounter a rude waiter who assumes Rip is an uncultured American pig. But what a shock! Rip not only frequents the place, he talks to the staff en Francais! That Rip is a real Renaissance man, I tell you.
Meanwhile, Brell and his cronies decide if they can’t get Rip to join them, they’ll beat him at his own game. They scope out a rough nightspot downtown in order to scout some muscle. The bar is everything you’d expect from a tough dive bar; it’s got trashy waitressses, tobacco-spitting roughnecks, and midgets dangled from cages. Brell gets the idea to air a “Battle of the Tough Guys” event from the bar, but bar patron Stan Hansen is too busy pointing out that David Paymer has a small penis.
Brell conducts his first Tough Guy competition, and competitors beat the hell out of each other in a violent display that would have never made it to Network Television then or now. A bunch of brutes portrayed by such wrestling legends as Jos Le Duc, Jeep Swenson, and Pete Doherty battle each other for supremacy. As an aside here, what I always wondered, even as a little kid with no marketing knowledge, was why they used these guys for this movie. I mean, this thing had Vince McMahon’s grubby little paws all over it, so why wouldn’t he use more home-grown talent? Gene Okerlund and Jesse Ventura and Howard Finkel appear, so why would he not use more of his own “name” wrestlers as the tough guys? Pete Doherty was a jobber. Jos Le Duc appeared maybe three or four times on the late-night syndicated shows, but he always lost by disqualification. I don’t believe Swenson ever worked for the WWF, or really even ever as a full-time wrestler. Where was Brutus Beefcake and Randy Savage and Hacksaw Jim Duggan?
Maybe, though, it’s because he didn’t want his guys being made to look weak when Zeus entered the picture. Zeus blasts through the wall, destroys a bunch of people, and is crowned reigning Tough Guy champion. Zeus, of course, is Tom ‘Tiny’ Lister, who later re-dubbed himself Tiny ‘Zeus’ Lister to commemorate this fine piece of cinematic genius. After disposing of everyone in his path, Zeus calls out Rip.
Rip has his own troubles, though. Rip thwarts a robbery attempt at a local diner, which was absolutely stupid of him, because there are multiple assailants with guns while All Rip can do is throw bar stools. Sam, it turns out, was hired by Brell to seduce Rip and win him over to the network. But she gets all smitten with the grappler and can’t undermine him. After some of the usual odd sexual tension that all of these movies have, Sam and Rip fall for one another. Brell hires his henchmen to attack Sam, but Rip saves the day. Zeus confronts Rip to issue the challenge in person, but Rip holds off. Finally, it takes lil’ bro Randy being beaten into being a quadriplegic by Zeus that makes Rip react. No, he doesn’t file a lawsuit and press criminal charges, he simply accepts the challenge.
This, of course, all leads to Rip’s final showdown, and we can all guess how that ends up. Rip is apparently guided by Little Mac’s coach from Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out, who knows Zeus from the past and talks about how he’s a convicted killer. The only other folks in Rip’s corner are Sam, who is kidnapped by Brell, and Randy, who is confined to a wheelchair. This all leads to one important question: does Rip have any friends? No allies in the wrestling biz? No buddies he grew up with that can back him up? The guy must be a pretty big dickhead if the only friends he can muster up are his retarded brother, an elderly coach, and a hired sexual criminal.
But whatever. We all know how it ends, at least if we’ve ever seen a ROCKY movie. This isn’t exactly LAWRENCE OF ARABIA in the grand scheme of things. NO HOLDS BARRED is pretty goddamn bad, but it’s the catalyst that led to subsequent Hogan vehicles like SUBURBAN COMMANDO and MR. NANNY.
Somehow, they even managed to get a few somewhat respectable names to appear in this thing. Not Tom Cruise or Michael Douglas or anything, but David Paymer and Kurt Fuller are pretty well-known comedic character actors. Joan Severance will probably never live down her time as the love interest for the Hulkster, though, and will be relegated to made-for-cable and straight-to-video erotic thrillers for the rest of her career.
As a wrestling fan, I must thank all of the movie fans out there who skipped this film when it hit theaters, because Vince McMahon was actually toying with the idea of having Hulk Hogan face Zeus in the main event of WrestleMania VI. As it was, Zeus did come in for a few appearances, but when this thing bombed as bad as it did (it drew a mere 16 Million) Vince pulled the plug on that idea.
Still, NO HOLDS BARRED managed to pry its foot into the door of popular culture for a little while fifteen years ago. And while it’s a bad, bad, bad, bad movie, it’s not something I would recommend avoiding under the right circumstances (specifically involving alcohol and/or illicit drugs, not that we would ever condone such a thing.)