No Holds Barred ~ 1989, Thomas J. Wright, USA
The world of No Holds Barred is the sort of universe that professional wrestling really wants you to believe exists just outside the ring. It’s a place where everything is simple, no one is intelligent, and wrestling is really, really important. How can we ever hope to understand No Holds Barred? Who was this thing even made for? It feels far too sexual to be a kid’s movie (Even by hornball ’89 standards,), yet at the same time, what adult could enjoy something so juvenile? How seriously are we even supposed to take this damn thing? I just can’t say. Frankly, I don’t *get* wrestling. If you’re a fan, be advised… This review may peeve you.
“Uh, Slam into a slim jim, man. Maybe you’ve heard of it?”
The Plot~ Hulk Hogan plays Rip, the most captivating and popular professional wrestler in the known world, which is a much bigger deal in this movie than it would be in real life. Not only does Rip dominate timeslots when he enters the arena, he’s also a swell guy, widely known for his honesty, reliability, appreciation of fine cuisine, and unwavering moral compass. He even speaks French! Nietzsche’s Ubermensch has arrived, and he wears short shorts and a spandex bandana on the regular.
That’s his trademark hand gesture thing he does all the time.
However, there’s trouble looming just out of view for poor Rip and his loved ones- shady rival television executive Brell is looking to topple Rip in the ratings by any means necessary. In order to do so, our villain founds an ultra-violent, unregulated television brawl fest eloquently named “The Battle of the Tough Guys,” in order to find a champion capable of taking Rip down. His champion comes in the form of a homicidal nightmare named Zeus, played by Tommy Lister, a cross-eyed freak show who will stop at nothing to beat people up, probably because he had a bad childhood. That’s just me speculating. Something’s wrong with him for sure, though. So, then some more nonsense happens, until the movie is finally over and you can go do something else, like walk the dog, or make dinner, or whatever. Your time is yours to do with as you please, really.
I once heard Michael Caine make the comparison that acting on stage is like surgery with a scalpel, but acting on film is like surgery with a laser. The point being, of course, that when you’re doing live theater, you have to convey your message all the way to the back of the room. On film, you’re free to be much more precise- less is more! You can emote with even the slightest flutter of an eyelid while in close up, and the impact you have on the audience is greatly amplified. I would wager, if we follow this metaphor through to completion, that acting in a professional wrestling ring would then be more like performing surgery with a friggin’ battle axe, or perhaps some sort of cartoon chainsaw. Hulk Hogan clearly did very well for himself winning the hearts of his audience from inside the ring, but “over the top clown” is all he knows, and it’s just not suitable for film. The Hulkster is about as subtle as a Technicolor clown riding a motorcycle through a frame of Schindler’s List, and watching him for 90 minutes is a chore. 85% of his dialogue is just strained grunting, and somehow the scene where he cries by his little brother’s hospital bed comes off as being less believable than the scene where he takes down two armed robbers by throwing pies at them. Oh, to live in the world of No Holds Barred…
Most of the other actors are fine, though, Tommy Lister especially is perfect as the stumbling, murderous Zeus. It’s not a demanding role, but he does it well- Lister would later go on to have small, but memorable roles in everything from Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element, to Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight! Not too shabby. Hulk Hogan, on the other hand, would go on to land a starring role in an ethnic slur laden sex tape that would end his career and utterly demolish his legacy forever, but he still probably has more money than all of us, because there is no justice in the universe.
No Holds Barred is a bad movie. I’ve learned that fans of professional wrestling do hold a certain reverence and affection for the film, and that is to be expected, but for the rest of us, I calls ’em likes I sees ’em. This movie is a horrifyingly chauvinistic, embarrassingly simple string of clichés, festooned with sweaty men, and slapped together sloppily. You absolutely have to meet it more than half way in order for the narrative to hold together, because it under the slightest level of scrutiny it collapses like France in a fistfight, and the movie’s many attempts to foster some sort of emotional reaction out of the audience are handled with all the slyness and cunning of a North Korean propaganda minister.
it does have two things going for it: It has the single most terrifying public restroom I’ve ever seen on film, and also, it has the now famous “Dookie Sequence,” which I’ve included here:
That was worth watching.