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No Holds Barred
1989 - PG-13 - 93 mins. Mins.
Director: Thomas J. Wright
Written By: Dennis Hackin
Starring: Hulk Hogan, Joan Severance, Kurt Fuller, Tom 'Tiny' Lister Jr., Mark Pellegrino
Review by: Ben Samara
At the height of its popularity, the World Wrestling Federation tried to capitalize on its recognition by manufacturing a multitude of crossover projects. One of the first was a feature film starring Hulk Hogan, the WWF’s resident superstar. Seven years prior, Hogan had some box office success on the big screen – as a wrestler no less – in Sylvester Stallone’s ‘Rocky III.’ Somehow, this must have led the executives over at the WWF to believe he had some acting chops, because 1989 saw the release of ‘No Holds Barred,’ his first starring vehicle.

Needless to say, those executives were wrong. Still, ‘No Holds Barred’ delivers some of the most unintentionally funny moments ever captured on film.

The story follows Rip (Hogan), the dominant World Wrestling champion (Big stretch there, guys). Writer Dennis Hackin and director Thomas J. Wright make sure to use every cliché to show us that Rip is a loyal and dedicated athlete and friend. He respects his fans, loves his brother and values the television station he works for.

When Brell (Kurt Fuller), a rival television producer, tries to pry Rip away from his current deal to raise ratings, things start to get testy. Rip refuses to leave and Brell refuses to take no for an answer. He goes on a search to find his own tough guy and establishes a new wrestling show, cleverly titled ‘Battle of the Tough Guys.’

When the seemingly invincible Zeus (Tom ‘Tiny’ Lister, Jr.) wins the first tournament, Brell seeks to pit him against Rip in a fight to the death. It’s a storyline so good they did it all over again for Wrestlemania V!

If this plot actually seems interesting to you, let it be known that it comes across much more coherently on paper than on film. The writing here is so bad you’ll forget how some scenes even started. Characters will go from nothing to talking about important plot points out of nowhere, if only because the script says to.

Hogan has shown he has charisma before. He was mildly entertaining in a few of his subsequent projects, 1991’s ‘Suburban Commando’ and 1993’s ‘Mr. Nanny,’ but here he just has zero to work with. Rarely is a leading actor the cause of so many cringe-inducing moments.

It didn’t help Hogan that his wrestling colleague, ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper, had set the bar for acting grapplers pretty high a year earlier. While his performance in John Carpenter’s alien thriller ‘They Live’ wasn’t anything spectacular, it was light-years ahead of Hogan here.

As the villain of ‘No Holds Barred,’ Fuller plays the character of Brell in career-ending fashion. The only astonishing thing about his performance is that it didn’t actually end his career. In fact, he’s still acting today, and even had a small supporting role in last year’s Oscar-nominated biopic ‘Ray.’ Here, his calling card is walking around trying to look angry and calling people incoherent names like ‘jock-ass.’ Don’t get me wrong, it’s hilarious, but it’s not good filmmaking.

If you liked wrestling during its heyday in the 80s and early 90s, this movie is worth a watch if only for nostalgia. You’ll laugh for sure. Hell, you may even cry. Only from the laughter though.
Movie Guru Rating
Unwatchable.  One of the worst of the year.  Skip it.
  0.5 out of 5 stars

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