In 2012, professional wrestler and long-haired bald man Hulk Hogan was embarrassed when a video surfaced of him doing sexies with a lady who had the good fortune not to be his wife. I didn’t see the video in question — when it comes to wrestler-based pornography, I prefer the subtlety of Randy Savage’s “Snap Into a Slim Jim” — but it’s hard to imagine it was any more degrading than Hulk’s “Suburban Commando,” which was actually released in movie theaters.
This was Hulk Hogan’s second starring vehicle (after “No Holds Barred”), but it was the first time he’d played something other than a pro wrestler. He is Shep Ramsey, an intergalactic space soldier, possibly a mercenary, who zooms around the universe killing bad guys. He wears a grey unitard, plus silver gauntlets and boots, a bandolier and utility belt, and a codpiece. He looks like a pro wrestler who is going to Comic-Con.
Our introduction to Shep Ramsey comes when he infiltrates the evil Gen. Suitor’s spaceship to rescue a foreign planet’s president, then blows up the ship and saves only himself. For this abject failure he is mildly chewed out by his superior officer, who suggests that maybe Shep is a bit stressed from overwork. “I am NOT stressed out!!” Shep replies angrily. To emphasize how not stressed out he is, he punches his spaceship’s power console, thus destroying it and forcing an emergency landing on Earth, where he’ll have to wait for six weeks while his ship recharges itself. He complains about all of this as though there were a single element of it that is not completely his own fault.
This sounds like the setup for a comedy about an incompetent boob who keeps screwing things up but is rewarded anyway, like “MacGruber” or “Brett Ratner.” But “Suburban Commando” insists that Shep Ramsey is a hero worthy of admiration and praise, accompanying his every action with a valiant musical score. Maybe “Suburban Commando” didn’t see the first few scenes of “Suburban Commando”? In any event, now Shep is in generic American suburbia as the opening credits roll. Since it is 1991, these credits play under an excruciatingly white rap song, which was the style at the time.
So the deal is that Shep Ramsey will have to “blend in” on Earth for a few weeks, and since he is an alien he will misunderstand certain elements of human culture, and these misunderstandings will result in widespread hilarity leading to learning and growth. The only question is whether any of it will be funny or entertaining. The answer is no. It was hardly even a question, but I wanted to be fair.
Shep hides his damaged spaceship and disguises himself in Earthling clothes stolen from a mean man who mistreats his dog and thus deserves to have his clothes stolen. (That’s straight out of Leviticus.) Strolling through whatever town this is, Shep sees a flier on a telephone pole: “Apartment for Rent,” with an arrow pointing to the right. No address or anything, just “Apartment for Rent” and an arrow. This is very, very subtle advertising, but it’s enough for Shep to go directly to the right house a couple streets over. It is also a signifier that the people who made this film were, like Shep Ramsey, alien visitors unfamiliar with the fundamentals of Earth life.
The house belongs to the Wilcox family, headed by wimpy architect dad Charlie (Christopher Lloyd) and gaunt pop-eyed mom Jenny (Shelley Duvall), with a couple of kids who don’t matter. (Whatever other faults this film has, at least it is not about Hulk Hogan befriending children and teaching them valuable life lessons. That’s the next one, “Mr. Nanny.”) They’re renting out what used to be Charlie’s workshop but which Jenny has converted into a homey apartment. She did it all in one day, while Charlie was at work, without telling him first, all of which is impressive on a number of levels.
Charlie is suspicious of this huge, weird stranger with the bright yellow hair and cartoon mustache, but he soon comes to realize Shep’s value, which is that he is big and strong and can intimidate bullies. Yes, despite being a grown man with a good job and a family, Charlie is regularly harassed by other grown men in his neighborhood who park their cars in front of his driveway, mock him, and generally treat him like the wimp he is. His boss mistreats him, too. Charlie is a George McFly type, only instead of being taught to stand up for himself by his time-traveling son, he learns confidence from a tan, oily spaceman.
Interspersed with scenes of Shep being a positive influence on Charlie are scenes of Shep being a dimwitted ox. He assaults the mailman and the paperboy because he thinks they are enemy combatants attacking the Wilcox home. He walks past a video arcade and thinks the games depict actual space battles, and that for some reason children are entrusted with the responsibility of overseeing the galaxy’s military force. He sees a street mime performing the “trapped in a box” thing and tries to free him from his invisible cage. The mime is performing at night on a side street in front of zero people, by the way — again, I think the filmmakers had heard of certain things that occur on planet Earth and wanted to include them in their movie even though they didn’t know the context in which they normally occur. This is what happens when you let pro wrestlers and aliens make movies together.