Times Staff Writer

In the pre-credit sequence of "Grunt! The Wrestling Movie" (opening today at the Fox International following a live wrestling event outside the theater at 6:45 p.m.), we're shown a grainy black-and-white replay of the infamous 1979 heavyweight championship match between Mad Dog Joe DeCurso and Skull Crusher Johnson.

That's the one in which Mad Dog inadvertently decapitated the champ, leaving the title in limbo and himself in such a state of depression that he reportedly jumped off the Oakland Bay Bridge.

But a number of fans think that a new contender, Mask (Stephen Cepello), "the idol of children and kisser of dogs" is really Mad Dog in disguise. Among them are the nerdish president of Mad Dog's fan club (Robert Glaudini) and a young film maker (Jeff Dial) eager to make a documentary on Mad Dog. When these two join forces they provide the very slender thread that strings together a series of wrestling matches involving the Mask and typically gaudy and loud-mouthed opponents.

Director Allan Holzman, a talented Roger Corman discovery who made the amusingly gruesome space-horror film "Forbidden World" and the nifty teen adventure "Out of Control," has his work cut out for him here. First of all, how do you spoof what is already a spoof? Neither Holzman (and three others who wrote the film's original story) nor Roger D. Manning, credited with the screenplay, has been able to answer this satisfactorily. They just didn't think up enough jokes and gags to sustain their film between matches. Long before the finish, you realize it doesn't matter whether Mad Dog and Mask are one and the same.

If Holzman hasn't filled in all the blanks, he does keep things moving with plenty of verve and much good nature. He's really better at having fun with Dial and all his problems and pretensions as a would-be documentary film maker than with the denizens of wrestling--but then Holzman would logically be much more familiar with the first than the second.

Wrestlers are so self-promoting and so familiar in their outrageousness that their women are funnier--Marilyn Dodds Frank as Mad Dog's ferocious girlfriend and Lydie Denier as Mask's froufrou, poodle-carrying French manager. There's a good movie to be made about wrestling, but "Grunt!" (rated a puzzlingly severe R), amiably goofy as it is, isn't it. 'GRUNT! THE WRESTLING MOVIE'

A New World Pictures and James G. Robinson presentation. Producers Don Normann, Anthony Randel, Director Allan Holzman. Screenplay Roger D. Manning; based on a story by Holzman, Randel, Lisa Tomei, Barry Zetlin. Camera Eddie Van Der Enden. Music Susan Justin. Art directors J.Rae Fox, Lynda Burbank. Film editors Holzman, Zetlin. With Greg (Magic) Schwarz, Marilyn Dodds Frank, Steven Cepello, Robert Glaudini, Jeff Dial, Lydie Denier, Dick Murdock, Exotic Adrian Street, John Tolos, Victor Rivera, Count Billy Varga, Wally George, Bill Grant, Mando Guerrero, Egil Aalvik, Woody Farmer, Great Goliath, Ray Stern, Danny Spivey.

Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.

MPAA rating: R (Under 17 requires an accompanying parent or adult guardian.)

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