Film Torments: Santa with Muscles (1996)
To ‘celebrate’ this happy time in its very own cock-mangling way, the SCM Film Section will be devoting the weekly torments of this wonderful December to horrendous Christmas films. Kicking us off is – what else? – Santa with Muscles.
WRESTLING stars have never done well in the squared circle of Hollywood. With the notable exceptions of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, Rowdy Roddy Piper and Andre the Giant’s turn in The Princess Bride, the prime of sports entertainment have seldom flexed their acting mettle with particular strength. Charismatic as many in the wrestling industry are, the act of transposing that charisma onto the silver screen has eluded the likes of John Cena (The Marine), Edge (Highlander: Endgame) and, er, Rey Misterio, Sr. (Wrestlemaniac).
Hulk Hogan, one of the most – if not the most – recognised wrestlers of all time, did not escape this industrial curse. Known the world over for his high-flying bouts, audience-enrapturing promos and dashing handlebar moustache, Hogan (real name Terry Bollea) seemed a shoe-in for celluloid stardom. His inspired performance as Thunderlips in 1982’s Rocky III presumably alerted him to LA’s finest, but it would be almost a decade before his first starring role in 1989’s No Holds Barred, a widely-derided, WWF-produced absurdity that featured Hulk as, wouldn’t you guess it, a professional wrestling champion.
Hulkamania, suffice it to say, proceeded to fall flat on its face at the box office. After Suburban Commando and Mr. Nanny both failed spectacularly, one can only assume Hogan started to get a little desperate. Though obviously gifted with an overdeveloped pituitary gland and gallons on gallons of anabolic steroids, Hogan simply did not have the acting chops to carry a motion picture. Lord knows, then, why Santa with Muscles seemed like a good idea.
Hogan plays a cold-hearted multi-millionaire bodybuilding supplement mogul who, through the wonders of light-hearted comedy slapstick, wrangles himself into a Santa Claus outfit and gets whacked on the head. Waking from the concussion with amnesia, Hogan comes to the conclusion that, yes, he actually is jolly St. Nick.
Under this illusion, Hogan, with the aid of Don Stark’s shriekingly unfunny comic relief elf, battles to save an orphanage from Ed Begley Jr.’s evil, germophobic scientist. His objective? To steal the explosive crystals hidden in the building’s catacombs. Yes. A young, deeply embarrassed Mila Kunis also stars.
Santa with Muscles is exactly as bad as it sounds. Currently occupying No.68 on IMDB’s illustrious Bottom 100, Hogan’s vehicle is a thuddingly stupid exercise in Yuletide banality. Filmed in blazing California sunshine in what I can only assume was the height of a heatwave in July, Santa with Muscles is about as Christmas-y as a septic rash in a corn silo.
It has the comic timing of a strepsil, the script of a stuttering rhino and all the clunking, obvious, deadpan delivery we’ve come to expect from one of the most charismatic wrestlers in the industry – crisp, oatmeal monotone, drawling ever on into the horizon. Though one of the most renowned workers in wrestling in the 80s, Hogan was unable to keep his grips on his credibility as he bodyslammed into the 90s; this special kind of Christmas crap makes the Fingerpoke of Doom seem brilliant in comparison.
Hogan is vacant, stumbling and confused, and that’s before the amnesia hits. It only gets worse when he’s forced to endure the spectacle of fighting off Begley Jr.’s henchmen with enormous candy canes. He later swordfights Begley Jr. with the aforementioned crystals that, mysteriously, despite being repeatedly informed of their unstable, explosive properties, do little more than clang when repeatedly and forcefully whacked together.
Only Clint Howard emerges from this debacle in any positive light, and that’s only because he’s Clint Howard. That’s right; a man who’s almost entirely dedicated his recent career to the Uwe Boll filmography comes out of Santa with Muscles with the most credibility. As Hinkley, an apparently insane beat cop, Howard becomes so flustered at Hogan and co.’s cripplingly unfunny high-falootin’ that he eventually pulls out a rocket launcher from his squad car and aims it square at Hogan’s biceps. Sadly, he misses.
Elsewhere, Robin Curtis’ orphanage carer Leslie looks perpetually concerned, while every single child (Kunis included) of said centre look like they belong in Derek Zoolander’s Center for Kids Who Can’t Read Good. They’re all nauseatingly, sickeningly, gloppingly ‘cute’ to boot. And they can’t act. Ych a fi.
Director John Murlowski seems to have fallen asleep at the camera, such is the lack of inspiration. Though the screen is peppered with car chases and EXTREME 90s tropes, nothing excites or surprises. “Santa, you sleigh me,” is a line. Everything you expect to happen, inevitably, happens (except for the orphanage going all Poltergeist at the end).
Though Hogan would go on to be Dave Dragon in 3 Ninjas: High Noon at Mega Mountain – a masterpiece, to be sure – he would never regain the renown he held at the peak of his WWF career in the 80s. His film career, certainly, never recovered (thank Christ). And yet, with The Rock doing so well and Batista turning some Hollywood heads with Guardians of the Galaxy, perhaps the wrestling world can produce a good Christmas film with one of its headliners in the starring role. Hint: It’s not called Santa’s Slay.