Reviews of four Hulk Hogan movies on home video
The career of Terry ”Hulk” Hogan would be unthinkable without the concept of Saturdays, that mental sofa-spud time between Friday nights and Sunday mornings. Professional wrestling, where Hogan got his start, has long claimed the airwaves on lazy Saturday afternoons: It’s a grunt-and-grab, live-action outgrowth of the cartoons that play earlier in the day. Now that Hogan is starring in movies, he specializes in action-tinged family comedies for the Saturday-matinee crowd. The latest is Mr. Nanny, and while it doesn’t alter Hogan’s status as a trash-culture icon, it suggests that that’s not really his fault.
Actually, the reason Hogan became the breakout star of promoter Vince McMahon Jr.’s World Wrestling Federation back in the mid-’80s is that he was the only one of the godzillas who seemed in on the joke. Hogan could smack ”Macho Man” Randy Savage’s head into a turnbuckle, roar like a blood-crazed berserker — then turn and deliver a quiet, self-mocking homily to kids about the importance of drinking milk. In the process, he took the sting out of pro wrestling’s carnival of brutality and exposed it as a goofy sham — pure no-brow entertainment. Which is just what McMahon wanted: He couldn’t have sold the ”sport” to children or their parents if the threat looked real.
Neck chops are one thing, though, and acting chops another. The Hulkster’s image — a good-hearted fellow who can bench-press a Miata — may have led him into feature films, but it was up to him to do something once he got there.
Unfortunately, his first lead role (after a small part as a wrestler in 1982’s Rocky III), in No Holds Barred, merely exploits his Saturday stardom with moronic gusto. There’s nothing wrong with casting Hogan as a morally upstanding pro wrestler (named, uh, Rip). The filmmakers draw the whole movie on that vein-popping scale, though: The villain (Kurt Fuller) is an evil TV executive who rants and gibbers like any of the WWF’s ring monkeys, while Hulk comes off as a friendly, immense found object. The closest the movie gets to an actual joke is a scene in which Rip turns out to be a regular patron at a snooty French restaurant.
The producers of Hogan’s next film came up with a smarter strategy: Surround the star with movie, not wrestling, talent. In the droll Suburban Commando, he plays an intergalactic freedom fighter who hides out in the ‘burbs when his spaceship malfunctions. He rents a room from a wimpy family led by Christopher Lloyd and Shelley Duvall, both of whom bring some panache to the proceedings (an added plus is Larry Miller, genuinely funny as Lloyd’s obnoxious boss). Director Burt Kennedy once made a pair of fine low-key comic Westerns with James Garner, and his easy touch here punctures any pretensions Commando might have had.
Ironically, the safety measures aren’t really necessary, since Hogan is quite charming as the behemoth from outer space: glowering at treed kitty cats, dismantling an insistent car alarm, reeling in astonishment at thugs who would rather file suit than fight. Suburban Commando is disposable kiddie fodder, but there’s wit in the script and in the playing that make it Hogan’s best film to date.
Next came an odd, straight-to-tape action movie called Thunder in Paradise, in which Hogan and Chris Lemmon (aping dad Jack) scoot around the waters of St. Pete in a souped-up speedboat while romancing Felicity Waterman and model Carol Alt. Poorly written and boneheaded to boot, it plays like a pilot for a TV series you’d never want to watch.
Mr. Nanny was Hogan’s next theatrical release, with many of Suburban Commando’s family-comedy elements in place. Again you get familiar actors (this time it’s Sherman Hemsley and Austin Pendleton, plus rocker David Johansen hamming it up as a chrome-dome supervillain) and a kid-friendly plot (Hulk’s a bodyguard-turned-nanny to two poor little rich tykes).
Under Michael Gottlieb’s direction, though, the mix feels forced: The sentiment’s too broad, the action’s too brutal, the plot’s too aggravatingly dumb — even for children. Believe it or not, the best thing about Mr. Nanny is Hulk Hogan. His comic timing is pretty sharp by now, and he pulls off the treacly bits with aplomb. He even looks good in a tutu. Aside from one scene in which he rides a motorcycle while wearing headphones and no helmet (this is a role model?), Hogan far outclasses the rest of the show.
He’s no longer a Saturday-afternoon cartoon, in other words. So what’s next? Not an action thriller: Schwarzenegger, Seagal, and Van Damme have the genre locked up — and face it, Hulk, you’re just too nice to keep on crushing heads. I say go for the meaty stuff. Get Woody Allen to cast you in a small role in his next tweedy drama. Or star with Paul ”Crocodile Dundee” Hogan in a remake of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Hell, go for the glory: Play Julius Caesar opposite Daniel Day-Lewis as Cassius and Anthony Hopkins as Brutus. Except this time you throw them off a cliff.
Mr. Nanny: C-; No Holds Barred: D-; Suburban Commando: B-; Thunder in Paradise: D