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1997, dir. John Murlowski
97 min. Rated PG.
Starring: Hulk Hogan, Ed Begley, Jr, Don Stark, Garrett Morris.

Review by Noel Wood

When the subject of Christmas movies comes up, many names immediately come to mind. Ebeneezer Scrooge. George Bailey. Ralphie Parker. Blake Thorne.

Wait, Blake Thorne? Who the hell is Blake Thorne?

Well, stepping out from a long line of classic movie characters that capture the spirit of the yuletide season comes a character that is tragically passed over each year: Blake Thorne, a multimillionaire fitness guru who bumps his head and thinks he's Santa Claus. Of course, to cast such an important role, one needs to look for the finest talent available. And when all those people turn you down, and then all of the next lowest tier have other commitments, and then all of the next lowest tier feign sickness, you get Hulk Hogan.

Let's do a little history here. Back in the early part of the 1980's, a certain Italian Stallion was looking for a big, menacing, flamboyant wrestler type to appear in the latest edition of a certain movie franchise. A certain wrestler stepped up to the plate, and "Thunderlips" was born. Terry Bollea had gone from being a washed-up Venice Beach rocker to Hulk Hogan, pro wrestling superstar and aspiring Hollywood actor. As ROCKY III was making box office records, Hulk Hogan was leading the Rock and Wrestling Invasion on televisions and in arenas everywhere. Hogan took wrestling to new heights, and decided he was going to do the same in the world of cinema. By 1989, he landed his first starring role (as a wrestler no less) in the critically shat-upon NO HOLDS BARRED. In the following couple of years, he churned out the classic family comedies SUBURBAN COMMANDO and MR. NANNY. Both movies sucked balls. He even got his own television series, Thunder in Paradise. It also sucked balls. But by the mid-to late nineties, Hogan's career was considered D.O.A., culminating in such forgettable fare as THE SECRET AGENT CLUB, THE ULTIMATE WEAPON, and 3 NINJAS: HIGH NOON AT MEGA MOUNTAIN.

But before he bowed out of the acting game, he left us this little Christmas nugget (I'm using nugget more in the turd sense than the gold sense here,) SANTA WITH MUSCLES. And, oh, what a bundle of joy this little movie is. Before GIGLI and FROM JUSTIN TO KELLY dominated the top two spots, this film was ranked as the worst movie of all time by readers of the Internet Movie Database. As I write this, it securely sits at the #10 spot on that list, among such gems as TROLL 2, EEGAH, and HOBGOBLINS. But don't let any of that fool you: It hasn't gotten better with age. The only way it might have a chance of getting better would be if all copies of this monstrosity were forever buried under a pile of rubble.

Now, you'd expect Hulk Hogan to jump right in to such crap, but I'll bet you wouldn't expect any real actors to do so. Yet, somehow, perhaps because they lost a bet or owed someone a favor, there are several recognizeable faces in this film. Most notable here is actor/activist Ed Begley Jr., in the role as villain Ebner Frost. Original Saturday Night Live cast member Garrett Morris also appears, as does the magical sea creature known as Clint Howard. And rounding out the cast are two, count 'em, two stars of That 70's Show, Mila Kunis (Jackie) and Don Stark (Bob). That's quite an impressive cast for something of this magnitude. It also puts Hogan exactly one degree away from Kevin Bacon, thanks to the magic that is Clint Howard.

Oh, and just to give you a real scare this holiday season, this movie did not go straight to video. It was actually released in theaters, appearing on 98 screens nationwide during the 1996 holiday season and bringing in a whopping $198,000 in box office receipts. Oh, and if you saw it in the theater, kill yourself now.

SANTA WITH MUSCLES tries its damndest, though, to entertain, I'm just not sure what IQ the target demographic was. As I mentioned earlier, Hogan stars as Blake Thorne, who lives in a gigantic mansion and has dozens of servants in his employ. He appears to have made his fortune marketing fat-burning solutions, which are likely not ephedra-free. Blake enjoys a good sporting time, so he stages mock fights with his staff and goes paintball shooting in his spare time. While riding around in his Hummer being a carefree millionaire playboy one day, he draws the ire of Clint Howard, who calls in the cavalry. Police chase hilarity ensues, and eventually the Blakester and his goons are forced to seek refuge in the local mall. It's only days until Christmas, and the mall's practically empty, most likely meaning that they forgot to pay the extras. Blake finds a Santa suit and puts it on in order to elude the cops, but eventually they wind up back on his trail. While hiding in a garbage chute, Blake gets a bump on the noggin and winds up in the bowels of the local mall, where he's found by mall elf Lenny, an opportunistic little stereotype who swipes Blake's wallet and convinces Blake he's good ol' Saint Nick.

Blake then assumes the job of Mall Santa, ho-ho-hoing and asking the kiddies what they want for Christmas. But when two hooligans try to steal a collection bowl full of money being collected for the local orphanage (!) Santa just ain't having it. He thwarts the bad guys (cue candy cane pugilism spot #1) and he and Lenny go to the orphanage to deliver the cash in person. Of course, this orphanage only has three kids, all of whom are upset because they've been picked over. Somehow, the last three kids at the orphanage are healthy white kids. One is played by Kunis, another is that ugly little redheaded kid who's in about every commercial on TV, and the third is a little blond girl.

When Blake and Lenny arrive, they discover that the orphanage, like all of the other businesses in the area, are being harassed by an evil scientist named Ebner Frost and his gang of henchmen, including a dominatrix who can control electricity and a guy who tortures people with bad odors. Really. I wish I could make this up. Santa Blake then thwarts the bad guys, deciding that he's going to stick around the orphanage through Christmas to make sure that the kids don't get harassed. The media is immediately all over the story, dubbing Blake "Santa with Muscles" and running headlines in the paper and interviews on TV.

But Ebner and his goons aren't going to give up so easily. They realize that they need to get Blake out of the picture, and they'll do anything within their power to do so. But the real question here is what exactly these bad guys want so bad that would lead them to pinpoint poor defenseless children. The orphans and their caretakers wander into the building's catacombs (because every good orphanage has catacombs beneath it) and discover a gigantic safe. The kids seem to have figured out most of the safe's combination, but Blake somehow has an inspiration and nails the final number. Inside the safe, there are acres of highly unstable, luminous, magical crystals.

Okay, reality time. Say you're writing a simple little holiday movie to serve as a vehicle for the chairman and founde rof Hulkamania. You want to present a story conflict, so you get a bunch of mad scientist types and a cheap sympathy device like an orphanage. When it finally comes time to reveal the villain's motive, you decide that they're after highly unstable, luminous, magical crystals. Not diamonds, not gold, not oil, nothing that would make sense to someone without the aid of hallucinogenic drugs, but highly unstable, luminous, magical crystals. I'm wondering how high the writers were when they started throwing out these story ideas.

Anyway, Frost's henchmen eventually get the best of Blake, who battles with the evil Dr. Blight, whose power apparently is that he's got a British accent. Blake and Blight battle their way to the top of the orphanage's belltower (cue candy cane pugilism spot #2) and Blake is eventually overpowered, tossed into a passing garbage truck. Surprisingly, nobody makes a joke about throwing away a perfectly good white boy. Blight's success leaves the orphanage a sitting duck for the evil that Ebner Frost may do, and they even pull off a devious scheme to make Blake not want to return to the orphanage. Things seem hopeless for the poor kids.

But wait! Blake has a history with Ebner! In fact, he was an orphan in that exact same orphanage many years ago, and his best friend was little Ebbie Frost! Now this mission is personal, and even though Blake now realizes who he is for real and not Santa after all, he's still going to lend the kids a hand. He grabs his army of assistants and makes his way back to the orphanage, but he's again chased down by deputy Clint Howard and his gang of inept cops, who can't afford police cruisers built in the last two decades but have a big enough budget to carry around rocket launchers. Blake gets past the cops and squares off with an evil Sumo Lab Assistant (played by Hogan's longtime hanger-on Ed Leslie, better known as Brutus Beefcake, Dizzy Hogan, Furface, The Mariner, The Butcher, The Man With no Name, The Zodiac, The Disciple, and The Booty Man, and probably a name or two I'm forgetting) to get to the real villain, Dr. Frost. Stuff happens, everything goes unstable, and the orphanage collapses and the crystals go boom. Left without a home, the orphans are invited to live at the palacial estate of Mr. Thorne, and they all live happily ever after. Except for Garrett Morris's character, who gets to do yardwork while everyone else romps around and has fun. I'm still not sure exactly what message that's supposed to send, but I really don't care, because I'm just relieved the movie's over.

After this gentle story of love and caring reached its climax, I started to get a warm feeling in my heart, but I quickly realized that was just the burrito I had for dinner coming back to haunt me. Fact is, there's not a single thing about SANTA WITH MUSCLES that has an ounce of merit. It's a blight on the careers of pretty much everyone involved, and when you've amassed the body of work Hulk Hogan has, that's saying a lot.

It's no wonder this sucker wound up as the pinnacle of the IMDB bottom 100 for so long. It's abhorrent. It's the kind of Christmas movie that makes mediocre stuff like JINGLE ALL THE WAY and THE SANTA CLAUSE seem like Godsends. It does have one redeeming feature, and that's the fact that Clint Howard has a role in it, but considering the fact that Clint Howard has appared in 84% of all movies produced since 1974, that's not really much to write home about.

In the world of Pro Wrestling, Hulk Hogan is a larger-than-life character with natural charisma and charm. In this movie, he's just a terrible actor with a bad hairpiece and a vapid look in his eyes. Most people are aware that there are two voices to the Hulkster: The "ring" voice, where he sounds hyped up all the time and says "brother" and "dude" a lot, and the "normal" voice, in which he just kind of sounds like a burnt out Venice Beach stoner. I really think, if for no other reaosn than to put this thing completely over the top, that SANTA WITH MUSCLES might be remotely redeemable had Hulk Hogan used the "ring" voice for this movie, at least after the noggin bump that leads Blake to believe he's Santa. I'm still imagining how cool "Whatchoo gonna do....when Ol' Saint Nick runs wild on you!!!" would sound.

But really, even if that were the case, SANTA WITH MUSCLES would still suck. MR. NANNY and SUBURBAN COMMANDO are like Shakespeare next to this dud, and are probably better suited to get you in the holiday spirit to boot. And director John Murlowski should be strung up and tortured for making not one, but two films with Hogan (he also directed THE SECRET AGENT CLUB, but not a whole lot else that you've ever heard of.)

The ending of this film also leaves the possibility for a sequel. Let's hope Hulk Hogan never runs out of money, lest he decide to explore that option.


All Material Copyright 1998-2006 Movie Criticism for the Retarded.

For questions, comments, or the occasional stalking letter, send mail to Noel Wood. Please give proper credit when using any materials found within this site.

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