When Wrestlers Act: No Holds Barred (1989)

Thomas J. Wright

Hulk Hogan - Rip
Joan Severance - Samantha Moore
Kurt Fuller - Brell
Tom "Tiny" Lister, Jr. - Zeus
Mark Pellegrino - Randy
Bill Henderson - Charlie
Charles Levin - Ordway
David Paymer - Unger

Genre - Action/B-Movie/Cult

Running Time - 93 Minutes

When I was younger, there used to be a movie theater in my neighborhood called the Commodore. It had two theaters, but each theater would show a double feature for one low price. My first theater experience was at this very theater in 1986, when my mom - for whatever reason - took me to watch David Cronenberg's remake of THE FLY. Even today, I still imagine Jeff Goldblum is going to regurgitate on someone. But I had fond memories of spending hours at the Commodore just watching films, regardless if they were good or [mostly] bad.

One of the more memorable double features took place in 1989. The first showing was for a little known horror movie called CHILD'S PLAY. I think it's about some killer doll or something. Yeah, like that would have turned into a successful franchise! Psh! But the second feature - oh man - was for 1989's Hulk Hogan's movie classic, NO HOLDS BARRED. If you know anything about me, I love two things - horror and wrestling. I remember NO HOLDS BARRED being promoted during WWF television at the time, as the company really attempted to make their biggest star, Hulk Hogan, into a bona fide action star. Even though I was never a Hulkamaniac - I preferred Randy "Macho Man" Savage and the Ultimate Warrior - I still wanted to see the Hulkster tear up the big screen after he made quite the presence 7 years prior as Thunderlips in ROCKY III. And as an 8-year-old kid, I found NO HOLDS BARRED to be quite the fun movie. But that childhood nostalgia can sure be a bitch 25 years later...

Rip (Hulk Hogan) is the WWF World Heavyweight Champion. What a stretch. Rip has been the face of the company and champion for so many years, there's no real competition left for him to face. Apparently Rip's massive popularity has reached a global scale, which has captured the attention of a television executive named Brell (Kurt Fuller). Brell wants Rip on his network, ready to give him a blank check to name his price. However, Rip is devoted to the WWF and refuses to jump ship.

Brell, not liking that he got rejected, decides to get revenge on Rip. First, he hires an Account Executive to represent him named Samantha (
Joan Severance), who's supposed to use her bombshell looks to seduce Rip into a deal. When that backfires once Sam actually falls for Rip, Brell decides to start his own fighting promotion to compete with Rip. During one of the tapings, a beast of a man known as Zeus (Tiny Lister) destroys the competition, becoming the only man who can really challenge Rip. As Brell has his goons harm Samantha and lets Zeus paralyze Rip's younger brother, Randy (Mark Pelligrino), Rip wants revenge and decides to fight Zeus for supremacy.


Oh man, I have no idea how to really review NO HOLDS BARRED. Let's just get this out of the way quick - NO HOLDS BARRED is an absolutely terrible movie. The story is cliche. The acting is pretty sub-par. I'm still not sure who exactly this film is aimed for. Hulk Hogan was an idol to many children at the time, yet the film has stuff that would cater more to adults. This film is so stupid, it deserves an audience!

I have so many issues with NO HOLDS BARRED, it's not funny. One of them is the character of Rip. Was it really so hard for Hulk Hogan to play - I dunno - HULK HOGAN?? Because that's exactly who Rip is! Rip works for the World Wrestling Federation. Rip has been their World Champion for years. The people, especially children, love the guy. He doesn't dress all that different in the ring, besides changing the colors from red and yellow to white and blue. I mean seriously, it's not like he's playing a marine, or a serial killer with a mommy's complex, or a bus driving ex-con who wants to get closer to his daughter. He's freakin' Hulk Hogan under a different name! It's like when Arnold Schwarzenegger played Not-Conan The Barbarian in RED SONJA. At least RED SONJA had an excuse. What was NO HOLD'S BARRED? Why confuse the audience when the guy is just playing himself?

The demographic for this film boggles my mind as well. I would like to believe this film was intended for a younger demo, especially since the WWF at the time catered to a younger crowd and it stars their hero, Hulk Hogan. And the first half of the film is pretty tame enough for all ages. Rip wrestles. Rip beats up bad guys in really dumb ways. Rip and Sam have a flirtatious relationship that kids will understand. Even Zeus makes for a pretty good monstrous presence for younger audiences. But the last half suddenly involves attempted rape, woman beating, slaps that paralyze a young man, and the worst crime of all - Hulk Hogan wearing tight orange briefs that outline his butt crack! NO HOLDS BARRED almost broke me when I saw that Hogan likes the color of his undies to match the color of his leathery skin. I thought I was watching a cheesy pro wrestling flick, not a horror movie!! Seriously, who was this film for?

The characters are so stereotypical, other stereotypical characters from other films are pointing and laughing at them. I already mentioned Hulk Ho--- I mean, Rip. There's Sam, who is obviously the most non-dateable woman ever because... SHE HAS A CAREER!


Seriously, Sam is the hot bodied mole who is supposed to seduce Rip to the dark side. There's no set up for this plotline, but I didn't write this shit. But unpredictably, she actually falls in love for ol' leather skin! Which leads to her getting slapped around, almost raped, and even kidnapped. BUT SHE HAS A CAREER!!

Little Mac's coach makes an appearance as Rip's manager. Rip's brother, Randy, looks like his son. He looks great in a neck brace and a wheelchair though. And Ordway and Unger, the villain's lackeys, have small penises. Can't beat that characterization!

The only interesting characters in the film are the two main villains - Brell and Zeus. Brell is the stereotypical evil corporate villain who wants to give his network, the World Television Network (!?), huge ratings by signing Rip. When Rip refuses, Brell decides to make his own fighting program - The Battle of the Tough Guys. The guy may be evil, but his marketing and branding skills are definitely questionable. He falls instantly in love with Zeus [must have been the unibrow or the crossed eyes], and begins slapping women and kidnapping them once he feels the power.

And he likes to call people a "jock-ass" every now and then. Even 25 years later, I have no clue what the fuck that even means.

What I find most interesting about Brell is that he represents WWF owner Vince McMahon's subtle [*snickers*] portrayal of a rival promoter/head honcho for a major network. Honestly, I continue scratching my head as to who McMahon could be referring to. A business tycoon who wanted to compete against his company by trying to steal his top stars? That's absurd!!! It's not like Ted Turner ever owned World Championship Wrestling, made it a priority on both TNT and TBS, and stole a bunch of McMahon's top guys from right under his nose! Oh wait...

Zeus, on the other hand, is just a brute of a man. Who doesn't wax his brows. And probably doesn't know exactly who he's looking at while speaking to them, or in this film's case, grunting at them. But he's definitely an imposing figure who destroys anyone in his path, including Rip's son - I mean, younger brother. He's a great character to counter the more charismatic Rip for sure on paper. Unfortunately, it didn't translate into box office success or pay-per-view buyrates for Summerslam 1989 [which you can now watch on the WWE Network - plugs!!], but at least visually, the two make it seem like their battle could be a great one.

Unfortunately, the script leads into a final act that's just dull. The Rip vs. Zeus fight is pretty weak, with Zeus just breaking apart the set to use props against Rip. There's a lot of false finishes that make Zeus look really stupid more than once, and it's just not that climatic or as tense as it should have been. I thought the scene where a dude rides in front of Rip's motorcycle and crashes into a tree had more suspense. And even when the villains are taken down, the film just ends. No celebration. No follow up to any of the angles presented before the fight. The film just finishes and goes straight into the end credits. Pretty weak, NO HOLDS BARRED.

The film does have some classic moments though. The sexual tension scene inside the hotel room between Rip and Sam is memorable, just for how it insinuates that Rip enjoys jerking off in bed next to a hot chick in lingerie. Don't get your panties in a bunch. Rip was just doing push-ups, having his feet on the edge of the bed. It's not like the dude makes sex tapes for a living!


There are also two restaurant scenes. One, in which a French waiter looks down on Rip for being an uncivilized neanderthal. However, Rip happens to be a regular customer at this restaurant and actually speaks French! Rosetta Stone does work for neanderthals! The other involves a robbery at a diner, which Rip takes care of quick easily. How do you combat two men holding you a gunpoint? Why, by throwing pies at them of course! Now I see why Samantha fell for this dude. The man knows how to take care of business, unless it's not required in his guaranteed contract brother!

The most famous moment of NO HOLDS BARRED is actually in the first act, in which Rip takes out a bunch of Brell's bad guys after he refuses to jump ship to his network. The last guy Rip confronts gets roughed up by our hero, only for Rip to sniff around and ask about the smell. When the henchman whines, "DDDDDOOOOOOOKKKKKIIIIIIIIIEEEEEE...", hilarity ensues. My God, after all these years, that moment has remained stamped in my memory. And it's funny as hell. That's why I can't hate NO HOLDS BARRED. It has moments involving DOOKIE that puts a jock-ass smile on my face.

I think the issues with the silly narrative were due to the fact that Vince McMahon and Hulk Hogan weren't happy with the original script. Instead of hiring a script doctor to fix things, McMahon and Hogan decided to write a new script in 48 hours. If NO HOLDS BARRED doesn't prove that cocaine wasn't one hell of a drug during the 1980s, I don't know what will.

The direction of Thomas J. Wright is there, I guess. It's not a visually impressive at all. The pacing is off at times. The tone and mood shifts now and again. Even the wrestling and fight scenes are pretty bland, and that should be NO HOLDS BARRED's strongest aspect! I read Wright still directs stuff for television, and NO HOLDS BARRED definitely reflects that. Nothing special about the direction at all.

The acting is all over the place. Hulk Hogan plays himself here, so it's kind of hard to judge his acting ability in NO HOLDS BARRED. However, he does growl alot, tries to be a charming love interest, and actually CRIES in one scene! Definitely not Hogan's finest moment really, and I think even he would admit to that. Joan Severance is smokin' hot as Samantha. She doesn't get much to do really besides play the damsel-in-distress. But she looks great doing it, so no complaints from me! Charles Levin and David Paymer are pretty comical as Brell's subordinates, Ordway and Unger. I think every scene they were in was quite amusing. Both actors definitely made lemonade out of this dookie. And I actually forgot that Mark Pelligrino played Rip's brother, Randy, in this! He doesn't really get to do much either but get his ass kicked by Zeus. Nice to see the guy still have a television career, especially in the sci-fi/horror genre. He's a good actor.

Tiny Lister is memorable as Zeus, mainly for his presence. He still pops up in films every now and again, especially in the FRIDAY series as Deebo. Can't really talk about his acting since all he does is grunt and look mean. So I guess he's good in this. Really, the best actor in the film is Kurt Fuller as Brell. Fuller, probably one of the most underrated character actors of this era, is just awesome as this hammy, scene chewing, slimeball who makes the worst dialogue sound fantastic. His facial expressions when he's upset as just great. His use of "jock-ass" will never be topped. What makes Fuller's performance even better is that you can tell he's taking his role really seriously, which makes him more entertaining in the process. Definitely the film's highlight.

Plus we get wrestling cameos by "Mean" Gene Okerlund, Jesse "The Body" Ventura, Stan Hansen as the penis inspector, Bill "Ax of Demolition" Eadie as Rip's opponent at the start of the film, and even Jeep "Bane" Swenson as Lugwrench Perkins.

And the Jim Johnston music is exceptionally 80s cheese that has not dated well. But dammit if that theme song doesn't get stuck in your head. Ugh...


- Rip chanted "Rip 'Em! Rip 'Em!" as he made his way to the ring. Even with this advice, Vince McMahon still wanted to produce the screenplay to NO HOLDS BARRED anyway. What a jock-ass!

- Brell says Rip is what sells. And sex sells too. So Rip is equal to sex. Bubba The Love Sponge's wife seems to think so...

- Rip can't be bribed by the competition. Apparently it's not 1994 yet.

- The limo driver, scared for his life, wet himself with dookie. You mean like Green Day? I guess it is 1994...

- Zeus gave a lot of children nightmares. Must have been that wicked unibrow. Joan Crawford has nothing on him in that department!

- Sam felt the bed shaking as she slept, not realizing that Rip was doing push-ups on the edge of the bed with his feet. That's not how the "Rhythm of Love" is supposed to go, Rip...

- Zeus beat the crap out of Rip's younger brother, Randy. If Being Human means almost getting killed for your family, then it's Supernatural that you may not make it to see Tomorrow, People.

NO HOLDS BARRED has everything one shouldn't want in a film. The narrative is ridiculous. The direction is bland. The acting is over-the-top and not realistic at all. And for a film supposedly about pro wrestling, it barely has pro wrestling! But dammit if I don't have some love for NO HOLDS BARRED. It's an awful movie, but it's an awful movie that the child in me still enjoys for the most part. It's a campy, B-movie that takes itself way too seriously, increasing any sort of entertainment value it deserved to have. The dookie scene alone is one of the greatest moments in film history, in my opinion. NO HOLDS BARRED epitomizes a film that's so bad, it's sorta good. And if you can't respect that, then go watch something else, you jock-ass!

3 Howls Outta 4

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