64 million people a year suffer from insomnia and every so often I am one of them. But rather than use the extra time I’ve been given during a given insomniac episode to be productive, balance my checkbook, study for the LSAT or exercise, I instead fool myself into thinking the time isn’t my own and can therefore guiltlessly waste it.
Netflix instant queue is the perfect response to this mentality as it gives me access to countless B and C movies all of which I willingly watch while everyone else is fast asleep. Enter Insomniac Movie Theater, where I subject myself to some of the worst, campiest and outright terrible movies the world has to offer … and the occasional cult classic.
If all the world is a stage, professional wrestling is traveling theater. Think about it: At least three times a week a full production goes out to millions of viewers, all three from different cities, with different storylines, and a constant rotation of heroes and villains. And many of the nights that WWE isn’t on the air, they’re performing untelevised house shows.
And while the sports entertainment industry has given way to plenty of crossover success in recent years, few have come close to the monster success of Terry “Hulk” Hogan in the 1980s. During his heyday, Hogan was everywhere from children’s vitamins to Saturday Night Live, and the subject of this week’s episode, 1989’s “No Holds Barred.”
“No Holds Barred” is an action vehicle for Hogan, who plays Rip, a good-natured wrestler that stands for truth, justice, and the American way. He and his brother Randy, played by a very young Mark Pellegrino (Jacob from “Lost”), rule the World Wrestling Federation as champ and manager, dispatching idiots with the greatest of ease. Check out Rip’s intro.
After rip successfully defends his title against Jake Bullet, we are introduced to sleazy TV executive, and the movie’s primary antagonist, Brell. Brell, played by Kurt Fuller, is an archetypal corporate asshole. He beats women, plans extortions, rigs matches and relies on two pathetic junior executives for constant support. There’s no way Fuller didn’t have at least a little fun playing the character.
Unsurprisingly, the plot of “No Holds Barred” makes no sense. Rip’s win has cost Brell and his network a lot of money, despite netting huge ratings and a sold out stadium. His natural reaction? Make an offer to buy out Rip’s contract, presumably so that he can continue to wrestle for the same network and continue to score major ratings and sell out venues. All of the events that follow in the movie could have been avoided had an intern or yes man explained to Brell that ratings and attendance would be the same regardless of whether Rip was on his payroll.
Sidenote: Could writer Dennis Hackin have chosen a less human sounding name for Fuller’s character? Brell sounds like a Superman villain. And the fact that he never gets a first name makes it even more so. It is somewhat fitting though, as Brell essentially is the “No Holds Barred” equivalent of Lex Luthor. He envies the hero, watches from on high, and pits dumber but more powerful foes against our protagonist.
He also loves elaborate traps, the first of which he springs on Rip after he declines to accept the offer. Rip makes his way back to his limo, which unbeknownst to him, has been hijacked by one of Brell’s cronies. Naturally, the new limo driver takes Rip on a reckless detour before stopping at an abandoned warehouse where some thugs are waiting to give the wrestler a much-needed shakedown. What follows is awesome.
The funniest unintentional running gag in “No Holds Barred” is Rip’s wardrobe outside of the ring. As featured in the clip above, he tends to stick with do-rags, weight belts, and wrestling boots and judging by how quickly he dispatches those thugs (and makes a grown man shit himself), it’s working out for him. Heaven forbid he dress like a normal person when he’s not in the ring, even at his brother’s bedside.
When Brell gets word that his genius plan has failed he comes up with a new one: The Battle of The Tough Guys. Reality TV before reality TV existed, The Battle of The Tough Guys is a no-holds-barred (Hey, that’s the name of the movie!) tournament, with the winner getting a title shot at Rip and $100,000. This plan gets Brell what he really needs: An Anti-Rip in the form of Zeus, played by a younger, but still terrifying Tommy ‘Tiny’ Lister.
Zeus wastes no time in mowing down the competition and it isn’t long before he and Rip are set to face-off in championship bout. But not before Zeus puts Randy in the hospital, apparently paralyzing him by choking him and backhanding him twice.
And so the stage is set. It’s unfortunate that Hackin felt the need to further complicate the final battle by adding a hostage situation and a last-minute rig job by Brell because what results is a disaster even by 80s action standards. It’s like the antithesis of “Rocky IV.” The battle inside the ring is constantly getting undercut by the nonsense happening outside of the ring. Because the movie was marketed to a kid-friendly wrestling audience, there’s no blood or even bruising, so there’s no way to properly convey damage or power. Worst of all, the entire final showdown lasts just under 15 minutes, which is way too long.
It’s obvious from the box art that “No Holds Barred” is a joke, meant for late-night cable and the occasional insomniac viewing, but the end result is just as much of a failure at 2 a.m. as it is at 2 p.m. Maybe even more so, considering it would get a pass just for being entertaining in a juvenile way. At least they got the end credits song right. It does what every bad 80s action movie should: summarize the plot and work the movie’s title into the chorus.