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MOVIE REVIEW : Hulk Steps Into Ring in ‘Holds’

Pro wrestling phenomenon Hulk Hogan is the main attraction of the garish, sub-"Rocky” action-satire, “No Holds Barred” (citywide), and he has a peculiar Jekyll-Hyde persona during the movie. Outside the ring, he’s quiet, gentlemanly and deferential. While wrestling, his face becomes distorted and maniacal: eyes bulging, neck muscles taut, mouth stretched into a silent but leonine scream.

It’s the beast unleashed, the hulk unbuckled. The movie itself is about the war of nerves between a gentle but heroic wrestler and a raving madman who runs a national TV network. And, if you’ve labored under the delusion all these years that there was something phony about TV wrestling, “No Holds Barred” will set you straight. In the film’s world, every ludicrous chokehold, every laughable belly-flop, every preposterous rope-slam is totally legitimate.

Instead, it’s TV that’s phony. Here, it’s run by greedy, dangerous lunatics and sniveling toadies who, in the pursuit of higher ratings, will stop at nothing: including prostitution, murder or screaming and hollering until their faces turn blue.

Hogan plays Rip, good-natured wrestling superstar and benign blond behemoth; the movie’s ingenuity has not extended to finding him a last name (Rip Rogan? Rip Roxoff?). Kurt Fuller plays his demented nemesis: the unspeakable network executive Tom Brell.

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Brell first tries to woo soft-spoken Rip to his lineup with the gentle approach (for him): waving money in his face, shoving and pummeling him. When these restrained tactics fail, Brell turns to kidnaping, extortion, assault and attempted murder. He enlists the services of a homicidal maniac named Zeus (Tiny Lister) who challenges the champ to a match with no rules. Zeus also beats Rip’s brother to a bloody pulp. (Lest critics accuse the movie of veiled racism--Zeus is black--other blacks are always included, hiding behind Rip or cheering him on at fights, whenever Zeus appears.)

Obviously Brell is not rational. There must be easier ways to win good ratings than this. But Rip and his friends are irrational too; they never call the police to complain that a maniac is threatening them and committing violent crimes. Instead, Rip fights it out as he always has: alone, indomitable, in the ring, mano-a-mano. Will he win? Will he smash, bash and thrash the obstreperous Zeus? Will he rescue the lissome Samantha (Joan Severance)? Will his little brother walk again? Will the vile Brell get his comeuppance? Will the sun rise tomorrow?

“No Holds Barred” gets no points for originality. It’s written with the subtlety of a body-slam and directed with the finesse of a hammerlock. But the movie never takes itself seriously and director Tom Wright (TV’s “Beauty and the Beast”) has fun with the wrestling montages. Hogan himself has an appealing screen presence--like a gallant teddy bear who goes berserk every 10 minutes or so. Kurt Fuller, last seen gibbering insanely in “Miracle Mile,” comes up with the kind of congenitally sneering, wild-man bully who might have harassed Abbott and Costello.

And if you still think TV wrestling is mostly phony, consider this: “No Holds Barred” was produced by Shane Productions, which is, according to the press book, run by the “executive brain trust” behind the World Wrestling Foundation of which Hulk Hogan is currently world champion. What group would know better whether pro wrestling is just a big show?

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‘NO HOLDS BARRED’

A New Line Cinema presentation of a Shane Productions production. Producer Michael Rachmil. Director Thomas J. Wright. Script Dennis Hackin. Music Jim Johnston. Editor Tom Pryor. Production design James Shanahan. Associate producer Michael McDonnell. With Hulk Hogan, Kurt Fuller, Joan Severance, Tiny Lister.

Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.

MPAA rating: PG-13 (parents are strongly cautioned; some material may be inappropriate for children under 13).


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