Tuesday, February 2, 2010


I felt it only fitting that I wrap up my overlong wrestling theme with films that reflect what professional wrestling eventually would become and still is - the sports entertainment style that they are today. Nothing shows this transformation better than the wrestling movies of the late 1980s!

And really the beginning of this change in professional wrestling...

Original Title: Body Slam
Year: 1986
Director: Hal Needham
Writer: Steve Burkow (writer), Shel Lytton (screenplay)
IMDb: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0092684/
Genre: Comedy, Wrestling

M. Harry Smilac is a down-on-his-luck music manager who is having a hard time attracting talent and booking gigs for his band, Kicks (The most recent of the gigs is a Dairy Queen opening!!). When making arrangements for a campaign fund-raiser, he mistakes Rick Roberts, a professional wrestler, for a musician and hires him. At that moment he becomes a wrestling manager and starts to book matches for him and his teammate Tonga Tom.

Body Slam reflects well I think professional wrestling's transition from a specific, shady "sport" to what has been donned "sports entertainment" that occurred with Vince McMahon's WWF in the 1980s. Wrestling still had the illusion of reality and was broken into territories until McMahon took his father's business, created larger than life superstars, and went nationwide... for better or worse. And in Body Slam, we see a small team change wrestling from something just a physical confrontation to a complete entertainment show.

That said... too much fucking Smilac, not enough wrasslin! (and definitely not enough ROWDY RODDY!) In this way it reflects what WWF would become as well as we get management stories instead of stories being told in the ring as I like to see in my pro-wrestling of choice.

Dirk Benedict plays the super-shady music manager Harry Smilac who stumbles into managing a professional wrestling tag team Quick Rick Roberts (Roddy Piper) and Tonga Tom (Sam Fatu).

Fatu was best known as Tama, one half of the Islanders with partner Haku in the WWF. He never made it super big in the business, but his brothers Eddie and Solofa found a little more success as Umaga and Rikishi. Roddy Piper was quite a huge draw on the other hand. He lacked the wrestling skills of quite a few of his contemporaries, but more than made up for it with charisma to spare and for being very outspoken and just seeming completely batshit crazy. He was just a joy to hear on the mic and really sold his character first with his words and emotion.

And Mr. Hal Needham... a director who knows about actors with charisma to spare in one Mr. Burt Reynolds... totally dropped the ball on Piper here. Here was a perfect opportunity to have Piper shine on screen in a wrestling movie, but instead we get the Dirk Benedict show. Don't get me wrong... I like me some Dirk. But I like me some Dirk when he's on the A-Team or Battlestar Galactica or something of the sort. Put him up in competition for screen time with the likes of Piper, or even Tanya Roberts tits, and well I'm gonna take a pass.

Benedict is essentially acting the Face role from The A-Team, only a little shiestier. It would be fine, honestly, except that I wanted to watch a wrestling movie more than a comedy about this loser agent manager guy. He puts the moves on Candace Vandervagen played by a lovely Tanya Roberts with some lovely boobage and some lovelier feathered hair, and of course she falls for the whole thing after only putting up the smallest of fights. One minute she is disgusted by Smilac's advances but then a couple scenes later she has already given in and is getting plowed back at his seaside cottage that I'm sure a failing agent could afford.

I'm just assuming she is plowed because Tanya comes nowhere close to giving up the goods in this PG bore.

Piper is fine in his role despite being muted. And Needham made a good choice in keeping Sam Fatu's speaking roles to a minimum. We'll just say he's a much better dancer than an actor, and I think I saw my grandma with better moves at my wedding. And she had a cane.

There's appearances by the Wild Somoans Afa and Sika, which was pretty cool. They played the muscle of a loan collector and had no spoken lines. Their only job was to destroy cars apparently. The late great Capt. Lou Albano, playing the creatively named Capt. Lou Murano, manages the rival tag team The Cannibals, played by some guy I didn't recognize and The Barbarian who had a long career after this film and now lives in my stomping grounds, North Carolina!

Perhaps Needham was riding Burt Reynold's coattails in the successes of Cannonball Run and Smokey and the Bandit. Dirk ain't no Burt, that's for sure. Or perhaps we can blame the writing for this boring overall story. Whatever it is, this film just does not work. It is interesting to see the development in the film of Rock'n'Wrestling given the time the film was released in relation to the WWF explosion, but not nearly enough time is given to the actual wrestling and wrestlers for my tastes. The jokes are rarely funny, and the only over the top wrestler acting comes from The Cannibals themselves who just snarled and delivered short, uninteresting threats.

At least Piper's shirt is funny!

This film is not available on DVD, and I cannot honestly recommend tracking it down on VHS. If you come across it on the internet (cough like I did cough) or showing on some random cable channel, it may be worth a look for history sake and to see a crazy Capt. Lou making not-funny gay jokes and picking up a midget out of his chair, but otherwise just don't and say you did.

No one will know the difference.

Score: 4 / 10

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