Movie Review: No Holds Barred (Hulk Hogan, Zeus)

No Holds Barred Movie Review (WWE / WWF / Hulk Hogan)
Despite most reviews for No Holds Barred being terrible, I genuinely thought I'd enjoy this movie.

After all, I have a track record of liking things that nobody else does.

I'm the guy, remember, who enjoyed Diesel vs. British Bulldog from In Your House 4: Great White North; a match so bad that even Vince McMahon himself reportedly threw his headset down in disgust after it was over.

I'm the guy who genuinely believes that Metallica wrote some of their best songs on the Load and Reload albums, and who prefers shows like From Dusk Til Dawn to Game of Thrones or any of that crap.

So yeah, my tastes tend to be a little weird. I tend to find the good in even the worst of things, but when it comes to this 1989 wrestling-themed monstrosity, I'm sorry, not even I can find much good to say about it.

Released at the height of the Hulkamania boom in order to cash in on said boom and propel its lead actor, Hulk Hogan to Hollywood megastardom.

In that sense, you could say that No Holds Barred was a success. Hogan did enjoy an acting career.

It's just that nobody else besides Hogan enjoyed it.

In every other sense, especially a creative one and certainly a financial one, No Holds Barred was a resounding failure.

Which is a shame, because what the film initially promise sounds good:

All the this-would-only-ever-happen-in-a-movie action, sharp dialogue, and rocking soundtrack that made the 1980s such a golden age for over-the-top movies, with the added addition of pro wrestling, which was still red hot at the tail-end of the decade.

Yet if you were expecting wrestling's answer to Rocky, or, hell, even Kickboxer, then be prepared to be disappointed.

What we've got instead is, well...

Imagine pro wrestling were real (what!?! You mean it's not!?!), and imagine that Ted Turner had been unable to lure Hogan to his network with money back in the 1990s.

Imagine that Turner had instead decided to try and beat Vince McMahon in the wrasslin' business not by signing up bonafide superstars like Hogan and Randy Savage, but by launching what was essentially a glorified version of Bum Fights.

That's basically what this is.

Hogan stars as, well, Hogan basically stars as himself; a World Wrestling Federation Champion beloved by the fans and a giant box office draw.

No Holds Barred Movie Review:  Jake Bullet (Bill Eadie / Demolition Ax)
Except here, he's not red-and-yellow wearing Hulk Hogan but blue (and once white but mostly blue) wearing Rip,  a well-loved superstar who has his own hand signal that looks like a cross between a Hawaiian Shaka sign and Rip telling you to give him a call.

When we first meet the champ, he's heading to the ring to defend his title against Bill Eadie, better know as Demolition Ax but here known as Jake Bullet.

If that name sounds familiar to you, you're probably a fan of British sci-fi comedy, Red Dwarf.

Honestly, I spent days trying to figure out where I knew the name Jake Bullet from before it dawned on me that it was the name assumed by Kryten in the 'Dwarf episode Back to Reality.

Speaking of getting back to things, let's get back to our film.

No Holds Barred Movie Review: Rip meets Jake Bullet (Bill Eadie)
Hogan puts Bullet away with ease, much to the delight of the audience but the utter dismay of World Television Network exec, Brell.

It's never explained if Brell is his first name or his last name.

It's just his name. In that way, he's a bit like Prince or Madonna, if Prince and Madonna were psychopathic, bug-eyed television executives with a penchant for shouting the words 'JOCK ASS' whenever they got angry.

And trust me, he gets angry a lot.

Mostly, he's angry because his network is bottom of the ratings, and it's all because of Rip and the World Wrestling Federation.

He's angrier still when his attempts to buy out the WWF Champion with a blank cheque fail, prompting him to shout 'JOCK ASS' several times more.

No Holds Barred Movie Review: Rip meets Brell
In fact, Brell is angry pretty much all the time, until he and his two underlings go to an underground dive bar for reasons that are never explained (a common theme in the movie) and stumble across some bizarre form of no holds barred street fighting.

One of the participants is none other than Stan Hansen, who is listed in the credits -I kid you not- as Neanderthal.

Anyway, watching Stan 'Neanderthal' Hansen and his chums beat the crap out of each other gives Brell an idea:

He'll simply stick these street fighting miscreants on his network as an alternative to pro wrestling and win the ratings war.

When a solid mountain of a man known as Zeus enters -and quickly wins- Brell's ludicrously-named 'Battle of The Tough Guys,' the TV exec gets his wish.

No Holds Barred Movie Review: Stan 'Neanderthal' Hansen
Zeus' presence makes the show a hit, but for the evil Brell, that's no longer enough.

Now, he won't stop until Rip faces Zeus, and when I say he won't stop, I mean it.

As you can probably guess, we eventually get the big main event match, but not before we sit through a simple yet utterly baffling plot that basically has to do with Brell coaxing Rip into the match, but where hardly anything is given the explanation it needs.

Early on, we see Hogan in a board meeting, headed up by the cold-yet-beautiful Samantha (played by Joan Severance).

Now, Samantha may be his agent, or his manager, or even just some really bossy woman who is strangely passionate about pro wrestling merchandise sales.

We're never actually told.

No Holds Barred Movie Review: Samantha
All we know is that she's an attractive woman who somehow has a vested interest in Rip's career but definitely isn't interested in him sexually...

...At least she wasn't until the two were forced to share a hotel room and she finds herself all hot and bothered at the sight of some Hulkster booty.

So she starts swooning over our hero, or at least or hero's ass, and this angers Brell because...well, nobody's entirely sure.

We get a vague idea that Samantha was working for him, but that only poses more questions than it answers.

Was she working with Rip and then sold out to Brell?

Was she specifically hired to work with the Champion? If so, what happened to Rip's last manager/agent/random business person?

What, ultimately was Samantha supposed to do to mess with Hogan besides manage his merchandise sales?

Honestly, it makes even less sense than you think, as though a lot of key scenes have been left on the cutting room floor.

On the one hand, there is plenty of evidence that this is actually what happened.

You get the impression that at least some of the people who made this film wanted it to appeal to the Hulkamaniacs - basically kids. So including only the most essential scenes helps keep it simple and kid-friendly.

There's two big problems with this, however.

1: It's as though all the wrong scenes have been cut - so aiming for simplicity actually makes the movie far more confusing. All the stuff that tells you what's going on has been stripped from the movie.

2: A lot of the things that happen are far from kid-friendly.

Our poor Samantha is hit by a man, nearly raped and generally treated in a way that no woman (or human being, for that matter) should ever be treated, especially in a movie that is largely going to be watched by younger audiences.

The best part is that I haven't even mentioned the scene where Sam thinks Hogan is indulging in a little pre-sleep self-love but he's actually just doing push-ups in his skimpy speedos.

No Holds Barred Movie Review: Hulk Hogan's ass
Honestly, if you're planning to watch this film, be prepared to see a of Hulkster ass.

The worst part of all this, however, is that despite all the attempted raping going on, you're still never sure how Samantha is connected to Rip and Brell, or what Brell's goons tormenting her is supposed to achieve other than upsetting the champ in some vague, unexplained way.

The whole thing simply lacks any sense of cohesion, or any sense at all for that matter, and is basically a string of loosely-connected scenes strung together in a way that just about gets us to our main event:

Hogan Rip vs. Zeus.

And that in itself is odd.

You see, in most films I've seen (and I've seen a few), the bad guys don't succeed, but here, Evil Brell's one goal from the start of the movie is to get Rip on his network, by the finale, he's succeeded in doing just that.

He also succeeded, in booking a pretty good main event.

I mean it.

No Holds Barred Movie Review: Hulk Hogan as Rip
Rip vs. Zeus, as stylised and over-the-top though it may have been (this is a movie, not a wrestling show after all), was actually far more enjoyable than a lot of Hogan's matches at the time.

Plus, it takes-place in a TNA-style, multi-sided ring, so when you consider that along with the fact that this movie reminds me a lot of Turner/Bischoff luring Hogan to WCW, I guess you could say that the movie was a head of its time.

Only in that regard however. In every other way it's a simply terrible piece of cinema that not even I -bizarre appreciator of things most people hate- could learn to like.

I suppose that makes me a JOCK ASS.

PS: Can't get enough of Hulk Hogan and Zeus?

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  1. I'm in the "so bad it's good" camo but I also haven't watched it in a long time so it could just be nostalgia. Good review!

  2. This movie was written by Vince McMahon and Hulk Hogan in one weekend in a hotel room, so it's not surprising that it reflects what was going on in their minds at the time. Brell and his network were transparent stand-ins for Turner & his network, and Rip's helpless little buddy Randy (too bad you didn't even mention him in this review--he's one of the most pathetic parts of the movie) is an obvious shade at Randy Savage. And the whole Battle of the Tough Guys contest, in particular the part where Brell and his stooges go to scout for ideas in that weird bar, is a clear insight into what Vince thought about southern-style wrestling and Turner's fanbase at the time.

    No Holds Barred's biggest cultural contribution is the window it offers into what Vince McMahon and Hulk Hogan were thinking in early 1988, or whenever they wrote it. It tells us a lot about how they saw the world.