No Holds Barred


Many of our most talented and charismatic movie stars came to us from the world of professional wrestling. For example, there’s Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson! Actually, he is the only one. But Hulk Hogan also made some movies, and No Holds Barred is as bad as any of them, so let’s talk about it.

This story is from the annals of what was then called the WWF (World Wrestling Federation) but is now the WWE (World Wrestling Ederation). In the film, the WWF champion is Rip, a long-haired bald man who is basically Hulk Hogan except less articulate. Rip’s public persona is that of a mean, grunting ape, belying his true nature as a grunting ape who is actually fairly nice once you get past the smell. As the star of the WWF, Rip is the most popular children’s entertainer since Howdy Doody.

Whichever network airs WWF matches is a ratings powerhouse, infuriating the head of some other network, a slick-haired scream-weasel named Brell (Kurt Fuller, snarling like an overeager community-theater actor). Brell offers Rip a blank check to come work for him, but Rip rejects the offer. So Brell moves to step 2 of his plan, which is to yell insults at Rip until he changes his mind. All this does is make Rip angry, though, so Brell advances to step 3: having his goons abduct Rip in a limousine and take him to a parking garage to … what, kill him? No, no, just rough him up. Yet this fails too, as Rip turns out to be really good at fighting (WHO KNEW?) and easily defeats the puny humans.

(This scene ends with the film’s most iconic moment: Rip yanking the terrified limo driver out of his seat, asking him, “What’s the smell?” and the man replying, “Dookie.” He was so frightened by the lummox’s brutal rampage that he soiled himself, you see. This was the clip they showed at the Oscars.)

Having failed to bring Rip to his network, Brell sets out to do the next best thing and find a wrestler who will be even more popular, perhaps someone who is even balder with even longer hair. To that end, Brell and his suit-wearing yes-men go to a seedy underground roadhouse that doubles as an unregulated wrestling arena, where barrel-chested troglodytes grapple for the amusement of rowdy beer-guzzlers. Inspired, Brell launches a TV show featuring these insane monsters, and offers “one hundred thousand dollars, tax-free” (by what authority he can offer that perk I don’t know) to anyone who can defeat them all. The champion they find is Zeus (Tommy “Tiny” Lister), a gargantuan, cross-eyed, unibrowed colossus who communicates only in deep-throated screeches.

Meanwhile, Rip’s network people have hired him a new image consultant named Sam (Joan Severance), who turns out to be a female lady woman!! Rip was not expecting this! Rip is an asexual golem who is confused by the new feelings Sam stirs within his earthen flesh. They go to a fancy restaurant to talk business, and the snooty French waiter assumes Rip is just a big dumb idiot with a stupid mustache, but then Rip speaks fluent French (well, four words) and everyone learns a valuable lesson about not judging a book by its cover (although his mustache is still stupid).

It turns out Sam is a corporate spy hired to bring Rip over to Brell’s network. When she falls in love with Rip instead, Brell smacks her in the face, then sends one of his goons out to rape her, because it’s a clueless movie made by dullards. Luckily, Rip rolls up on his motorcycle just in time to save her, and boy, now that he’s REALLY angry, you can bet he … gives the dude a thrashing that’s no worse than the non-lethal beatings he doles out to ordinary henchmen who have not attempted to rape anyone. Whether you cut him off in traffic or sexually assault his girlfriend, you get the same punishment from Rip.

Brell puts Zeus on TV to challenge Rip to a match, but Rip refuses to sink to Zeus’ level (that is, to fight without being paid). Zeus insults Rip over it, which causes Rip’s younger brother, small dumb Randy (Mark Pellegrino), to pick a fight with him, whereupon Zeus beats him so badly that he is paralyzed. Yes, paralyzed. That may sound like an awfully cheap and manipulative way for the film to rouse Rip to action, but bear in mind that these are the people who came up with Doink the Clown.

Anyway, now that his brother can’t walk anymore, Rip agrees to get in the ring with Zeus, and the big match occupies the last, I don’t know, two hundred minutes of the movie. The entire film perpetuates the quaint fiction that professional wrestling is ultra-violent and controversial rather than bloodless and stagy, the announcers talking as if TV viewers have NEVER SEEN such carnage as one man pretending to knee another man in the face. That’s cute as far as it goes, and you can see why people liked Hulk Hogan, i.e., not because of his acting. “Aw, bless his heart,” said the critics when the film was released. “Big fella’s really going for it, isn’t he?” The planned sequel, Additional Holds Still Not Barred, never came to fruition. But Hulk Hogan wears his hair the same way now as he did 25 years ago, so I guess you could say he’s still acting.