We used to have something in the United States called “professional wrestling,” in which beefy men would fight each other publicly, using an array of fanciful maneuvers and following a scripted formula to ensure the right person won. These gladiators created colorful personas for themselves, and a team of writers devised elaborate backstage dramas — rivalries, grievances, jealousies — for them to enact. Professional wrestling was very, very popular. And then everyone grew up, and it went away.
Given the sport’s pageantry and flamboyance, it’s no wonder some of its most famous practitioners went on to pursue careers in the dramatic arts. Andre the Giant delighted audiences with his performance in “The Princess Bride.” Randy “Macho Man” Savage showed tremendous range in a series of 30-second mini-films, made for television, designed to teach young people the correct way to snap into a Slim Jim. On Broadway, Rowdy Roddy Piper won a Tony for his stirring portrayal of the title character in “Macbeth.” The Iron Sheik became the fat guy in “Borat.” The list goes on.
The greatest hero of pro wrestling in its 1980s heyday was Hulk Hogan, a long-haired bald man whose brave battle with degenerative hulkamania inspired millions. As a movie star, Hogan reached his zenith with his third film, “Mr. Nanny,” in which he plays a retired pro wrestler who becomes a bodyguard and must babysit an industrialist’s awful children. This is the sort of movie that tough guys star in after they have given up on being tough and have moved on to the portion of their career where they just make everyone sad. (See also: Vin Diesel in “The Pacifier,” Dwayne Johnson in “Tooth Fairy,” Arnold Schwarzenegger in politics.) Hogan clearly has no enthusiasm for the role. He seems embarrassed the whole time. For him, the entire movie is the equivalent of the scene in “Fame” where Coco has to take her top off.
Hogan’s character, Sean Armstrong, has been fishing in Florida since retiring but still has dreams about getting back into the ring and having men sit on his face. His old manager, Burt Wilson (Sherman Hemsley, aka George Jefferson), who now runs a bodyguard agency, persuades Sean to take a gig protecting a CEO who’s had death threats. This guy, Mason (Austin Pendleton), has invented a “computer chip” that will lead to world peace, or some such, and a lunatic wants to take it from him.
Ah, but Mason pulls the ol’ switcheroo, which sounds like a wrestling movie but isn’t. He has his own security guards to protect him. What he really needs is for someone to keep his two children safe, in case the lunatic comes after them. Sean protests that he hates children (a position that will seem more reasonable as the film continues), but he promised his old manager George Jefferson he’d do this job because George Jefferson once took a bullet for him. And so, once again, a movie’s protagonist is driven by a mixture of desperation and guilt, and we are supposed to find it delightful. Wheeee!
Mason’s children are Alex (Robert Gorman), who’s about 11, and Kate (Madeline Zima), who’s around 7. Their mother is dead, having succumbed to a tragic case of not being necessary to the plot. Mason, consumed with his work, allows them to be raised by a series of nannies, whom the children persecute maliciously in a transparent effort to gain their father’s attention. You might recognize this scenario from the seventy-five thousand other movies in which it has appeared. Mason has not seen those movies, though, because he continues to let his kids behave like monsters and doesn’t punish them.
Sean very quickly falls prey to Alex and Kate’s pranks and booby traps, some of which extend beyond the limits of japery and into the realm of attempted murder. Sean is variously electrocuted, crushed by heavy weights, hit in the head with a bowling ball, and knocked down a flight of stairs. From a physical standpoint, Hogan is able to pull off all of these stunts. Why, a bowling ball to the head is just another day at the office for a professional wrestler. From a slapstick-comedy standpoint, however, his technique is lacking. Contrary to what you might expect, there is a difference between pretending to get hurt in a wrestling ring and pretending to get hurt in a movie.
In one terrible moment, Sean goes to take a shower after exercising and is seen wearing the tiniest towel ever manufactured, perhaps as a novelty item. Not content to abuse its main character, now the movie has seen fit to abuse the viewer as well.
Over time, Sean comes to bond with the brats and to be a father-type figure to them. He helps Alex cope with the bullies at school. Kate shows him how to be graceful — because apparently he was klutzy (the movie does not mention this until it becomes relevant) — by teaching him ballet. The image of Hulk Hogan wearing a leotard and a tutu is supposed to be the height of hilarity. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s the sole reason the movie was made. (“Here’s my pitch: Hulk Hogan wears a tutu!” “Sold!”) Because it’s pink and girly, you see. But is it really that different from what he wore as a wrestler? Where is the line between masculine and feminine, between rah-rah awesome and ha-ha ridiculous? And as long as we’re asking questions, why are Hulk Hogan’s hair and mustache bright yellow while his eyebrows are dark? If you’re going to bleach your hair and mustache, why not do your eyebrows, too?
Anyway, the kids eventually stop trying to murder Sean, and their dad sees the error of his ways and vows to pay more attention to them. The movie’s only about 55 minutes old here, and you’re thinking, Awesome, things are wrapping up early! But no, there’s still that lunatic who wants to steal Mason’s computer chip. His name is Thanatos, and he’s played by David Johansen, a musician also known as Buster Poindexter whose songs appear on the “Mr. Nanny” soundtrack, presumably in a “Producers”-style plot to make sure no one buys it. Thanatos, a loose parody of a James Bond villain, has a shiny metallic head and a crazy grudge against … wait for it … Sean Armstrong.
Hold on there, movie. Slow your roll. You’re telling us the guy who wants to get the computer chip from Mason (for reasons that are never explained) ALSO has a vendetta against the man Mason hires as his children’s bodyguard? A man whom Thanatos had no way of knowing Mason would hire? It is a complete COINCIDENCE that Thanatos’ former nemesis has reappeared in his life, in the midst of a scheme that is wholly unrelated to him? If that contrivance were any dumber and less plausible, it would be called “Crash” and win Best Picture.
Flashbacks fill us in on the story. During his wrestling days, Sean was ordered by Thanatos, who’s a gangster or something, to throw a match. Sean refused to do this, as to lose a professional wrestling match on purpose would be to violate the integrity of the sport. Thanatos got angry, fired a gun at Sean, and George Jefferson took the bullet for him. Then Sean chased Thanatos off a roof, and he landed on his head, and now he has a metal plate and a grudge. (Note: Thanatos’ shiny head is supposed to be funny. Hulk Hogan’s is not.)
Naturally, Thanatos’ goons succeed in kidnapping Mason, Kate, and Alex, and Sean succeeds in rescuing them, saving the computer chip, creating world peace, ending hunger and famine, etc. He gets to beat up some guys in the process, in accordance with the strict must-beat-up-some-guys clause in Hogan’s contract. Then, like Mary Poppins before him and Nanny McPhee after him, having solved the family’s problems, Sean bids them farewell. It is a bittersweet separation. The children fondly recall the times they nearly killed him; their father reflects on the oily, over-tanned stranger he hired to babysit them; and Sean rides away on his motorcycle, the humiliation at long last finished, his long, long hair flowing in the breeze behind his bald, bald head.