In 1989, Hulk Hogan did some pushups in a spandex brief and cameras were there to capture the magic.
Rip (Hulk Hogan, Rocky III) is the world’s most popular wrestler whose WWF career is through the roof and is beloved by all. A megalomaniacal TV producer named Brell (Kurt Fuller, Ghostbusters II) wants a piece of this popularity, but when his attempt to hire Rip goes horribly awry, Brell holds a tough man competition to find an opponent that can best him. Enter the terrifying Zeus (Tommy “Tiny” Lister). But Zeus’ mania isn’t enough. Brell will stop at nothing to ensure Rip and his career crumble, even if that means felony kidnapping and aggravated assault, because nothing’s more important than a 1.5 ratings share.
I had somehow made it to 2014 without ever having seen No Holds Barred. I’m not sure what that makes me, but having just bathed in its glory, I can’t imagine it’s anything good.
Before WWE Films got really rolling, they dropped this turd. No Holds Barred is an utterly moronic journey into the heart of the late ’80s, ripe with Hulkamania and all of the vast assortment of pastel do-rags that went along with it.
Just because Rip’s skin-adhering outfits are pale blue instead of the Hulkster’s traditional yellow and red, don’t be fooled. Hulk Hogan is playing himself here, from those overly intense mannerisms and squeaky clean all-American persona, to his wildly popular in-the-ring moves. Why they didn’t name the character “Hulk Hogan” in the first place, I have no idea, especially since “Zeus” later broke the fourth wall and went on to wrestle on the WWF circuit, squaring off against Hogan himself.
Maybe it’s the post-Attitude Era cynicism stuck in my craw, but it’s hard to root for a cheese puff like Rip. Whether it’s his dopey brother rooting him on from a wheelchair (a recipient of a particularly brutal Zeus beatdown), or the fact he’s consistently surrounded by cloying fans with big hair, Rip is as shallow a protagonist as you can get, lacking a single molecule of self-awareness. For some reason, Joan Severance (Bird on a Wire) can’t get enough of this clod, as her Samantha Moore character is reduced to staring at his flawlessly tanned groin, rather than engaging in any multi-syllabic conversation.
The good news is Rip’s cardboard lameness is completely offset by Kurt Fuller’s Brell, a cartoonish villain that makes other cartoonish villains looks like doodles in my ninth grade Physical Science textbook. Fuller can’t speak a single line of dialogue without bulging his eyes out bigger than billiard balls and jettisoning spittle by the kiloliter. He goes out of his way to destroy Rip, culminating in the televised bout between the malevolent Zeus and his sworn enemy. Why any retailer would purchase ad time for a match that could have ended in live murder (Zeus attempts to impale Rip’s head on a destroyed turnbuckle) is beyond me. Then again, Brell is so off his nut who’s going to say no to him?
No Holds Barred (Blu-ray) is presented in 1.85:1/1080p HD widescreen, with a transfer that roaringly brings ’80s fashion sensibilities back to life, and a DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track that pumps out the film’s vomitous soundtrack with verve. Bonus features include two vintage WWF matches — Zeus vs. Hogan at SummerSlam 1989, and the “No Holds Barred” cage match also from 1989 — as well a production photo gallery.
Even if Hulk Hogan is up his own keister, No Holds Barred maintains a goofball tone, weaving enough hijinks throughout to make me believe the writers weren’t completely oblivious and knew full well they were dealing with terrible material. This one is gleefully dopey, and my life is richer for having seen it.
The Hulkster in his super tan, balding glory? Nothing can beat it!