Check out Part I here!
Check out Part II here!
No Holds Barred: The Script: Act III
When we last left our hero, he found out his perfunctory love interest has been kidnapped and evil network executive wants him to throw the fight to the evil bad guy champion after ten minutes, else the love interest will be crippled. Our hero sent his trainer to find his perfunctory love interest, while he prepares to meet the bad guy champion in the ring.
The script goes into details describing the setup of the studio where the fight will take place, thus warning the reader the geography of the space will become important for what will transpire next. Brell is in a control room overlooking the octagonal ring (it finally makes its return, despite not being used in the other locations). The Commentator serves as a crappy exposition machine recapping how the fight will work (we just watched like five of them, script). The crowd is nicely dressed, which tells me either the writer watched the Dumont network TV wrestling back in the day or this is Vince trying to class up the joint for his own vision of things that never came. Ripper gets a chant going from the crowd as he enters and the commentator points out that Charlie is not with Ripper and how that is strange. First time I read this, I thought this meant this would alert Brell to be on the lookout for Charlie and send his minions to block him, but nope. It has no bearing on the plot. At all. Next up, Zeus enters the arena, all alone, and the script makes sure to note he has no one because he doesn’t want anyone, like thrice.
Back in Orbach’s office, Orbach and the Goons get ready to watch the fight, with kidnapped Sam seated with them, and we note one of the Goons twirls the key ring. The script assures us that there is no escape for Sam. Erm, there is actually plenty, but okay. We are setting improbable odds to overcome. Probable odds would read badly, I suppose. In the ring, Ripper and Zeus have a shoving match and then a fight. This was allegedly the masterpiece of Hogan’s fevered dream. And I can see Hogan’s fingerprints on it, kinda. Per Hogan ghostwritten autobiography, Hogan rewrote the fight sequence on “Rocky III” due to the fight choreographer not getting wrestling. That’s a tall tale as well, but Hogan did have experience with movie-fighting prior to this film, and the Zeus-Ripper fight follows a kind of a Hogan-Big Monster Bad Guy template, but very slowed down. As Ripper and Zeus do battle, Orbach and his goons are distracted, and Sam is able to escape, though there are a couple of false scares. The Goons and Orbach realize Sam is gone just as she escapes the office, with them giving chase. But oh noes, as Ripper looks out into the audience, he only sees Randy and Craig, and not Sam or Charlie and he begins to lose hope as the Commentator tells us that the non-stop action has been going on for ten minutes. Meanwhile, Sam has a stairwell chase scene with guards. Just as they corner her, Charlie drives a forklift into the lot of them and pins them to a wall, and off Charlie and Sam race to get to the studio where the match is being televised. Somehow, during the midst of all this, no one had the heart, guts or time to call Brell, and he keeps gloating up in the control booth overlooking the eight sided ring. Zeus is beating on Ripper, but just then Charlie and Sam enter the studio and Ripper sees her and fights back, just as Brell spots her as well and starts pounding on his control console before him, sending sparks flying and Techs skittering out of the room.
Zeus fights back from Ripper’s assault, rips out one of the eight posts encircling the ring and uses it as a sword to try to skewer Ripper. This was specifically referenced in Hogan’s book by the way. Ripper evades the post, and Zeus nearly destroys the ring with his penetration of it with the ring post. The corners of the ring start to collapse, just like legs of the bed upon which Ripper and Sam spent the night. In the midst of all this mess, Zeus grabs Ripper in the same neck crank hold he used to cripple young Randolph. Sam yells at the Ref to do something. The Ref enters the ring, because I suppose Zeus is trying to kill Ripper, and Zeus backhands him into oblivion and “snarls with delight and torques Ripper’s neck with all his strength.” Ripper falls on the canvas, convulsing. This convulsion will be instant familiar to any wrestling fan, because that’s the exact same flop Hogan would do in WCW when facing no-good giants and Yetis and etc.
With Ripper downed, Zeus keeps stomping on him, but out of the corner of his eye, Ripper sees young Randolph marshal his strength and… move his left hand’s little finger… just slightly, but that is enough. “Randy looks up at Ripper. Ripper is looking right at him. Ripper has seen. Ripper gets that look in his eye.” Ripper mounts a comeback for the ages and beats on Zeus, who flees from the resurgent champion of all that is good and decent. Zeus resorts to throwing people Ripper’s way as he stumbles up and somehow goes towards up to Brell’s control room, or rather the scaffolding from in front of it. Brell is bug eyed and angry, but wounded Zeus still is able to hold off Ripper until Ripper hits him with the bomber-move and Zeus falls off the scaffolding twenty feet in the air and lands in the middle of the ring that collapses and the impact rocks the entire building. Oh, and the crowd chants Ripper’s name. Because, yay, murder!
Brell is all alone in the control booth and going stark raving mad, destroying electronic equipment as Ripper (“his chest heaving”) goes after him. Brell backs up into an electronic panel and “his left hand reaches out and inadvertently grabs onto a sparking high-amperage electrical wire. His body shudders and convulses, his hand unable to let go.” The monitors explode (?) and the panel sparks some more as Brell is killed by voltage and “Ripper witnesses this with no remorse. Poetic justice.” A man killing himself with electricity is poetic justice for rape, assault, attempted murder and manslaughter? Okay, script, if you say so. In the studio, Ripper turns to face the crowd, who are on their feet and roar “in fanatic adulation and chant his name.” He just killed one man and caused the death of another. They are cheering two deaths of people they barely knew because the guy who killed them was a wrestling fella they were fond of. What is wrong with these people? What is wrong with this in-film universe?
Ripper returns from his murderous tour de force performance to mingle with the people, getting to Randy and Craig and Charlie and Sam. He hoists Randy on his shoulder and Randy now, and only now, little by little, with the cheers of the crowd gives the Ripper hand sign with his left hand as the film ends. Wowzers. It wasn’t Randy that inspired Ripper. Nope. Well, okay, I mean a little, with his finger and trying. Trying, not succeeding, by the way. He just tried. Then, it was actually Ripper by winning who inspired Randy to not be paralyzed any more. Wowzers. Hulk Hogan matches can cure paralysis, folks. It’s a fact. The script said so. Wowzers once more. The film saved its best Ripper magic for last.
No Holds Barred: The Script: The Discussion
Act I was awful, but entertaining. Act II is where things really went off the rails, but the first half of it wasn’t that horrific, as opposed to the second half which brought everything to a screeching halt and violated what little rules of this world that seemed to have existed. Act III was paint by numbers but a lot of paint was eaten before it could be applied. A lot was spent on the fight to make it look and sound interesting in the script, but in my recap with you I limned it because it wasn’t that creative or built up on anything. It wasn’t like Ripper went into the match with busted ribs and we saw Zeus focus on that the entire match. Neither was there a bum knee. Ripper is nigh invulnerable, and boring. We never felt he was in jeopardy because he was only getting beat on for ten minutes before being asked to take a dive. It was never clear if taking a dive would mean Zeus would kill him afterwards because Zeus does not care or even if Zeus knew of the arrangement Brell had (probably not, given how Brell wants to manipulate him). So the worst thing that could have happened to the character is that he would have lost, on TV. The horror!
Also, given the description of Ripper’s axe-bomber finisher, which is Hulk Hogan’s NJPW finisher but just slightly off (in the script, I mean, in the film it is a whole lot off), and that the script literally refers to Ripper’s 24 inch pythons when he is cradling the baby in the “Ripper is great with babies” scene, this was written specifically for Hogan even if you never heard the Florida hotel room story. This wasn’t a “well, Hell, let’s do a vanity project for some wrestling lunkhead or weightlifting fella,” this was done specifically for Hogan and per Hogan he rewrote it to best fit his needs. What kind of a blithering idiot thinks people want to see Hulk Hogan fix printers in a Hulk Hogan movie about Hulk Hogan being a wrestling champion? If you’re a kid, and you came to see Hulk Hogan fight you get two wrestling matches only: one to start the film and one to finish the film, ninety minutes apart. And in the middle, Hulk Hogan whomps on four mooks in a warehouse, makes a driver shit his pants and throws a rapist down into the sewer. Compare this to an El Santo or a Blue Demon movie and see just how off the mark the whole thing really looks and feels. Who is the intended audience for this film, as written? The script has no clue. It does its best to alienate Hogan fans by not having Hogan do the things Hogan does and doesn’t do anything to build a new audience, though it thinks it does by having Hogan be a lover and a knower of things. Let’s talk about that last part, because it really makes no sense, from any point of view but sheer and utter vanity.
The biggest problem with Ripper being a spotter of fake furniture, fluent in French and maker of French cuisine, IT expert and baby and babes handler is that none of it means anything and has zero bearing on the plot. Ripper wins the day through sheer brute strength, the same strength he had displayed in the first match in Act I in the first three five minutes on the film. Did Ripper overhear the nefarious plot to bring him down and was able to stymie it due to the plotter being French? Nope. Did he hack the WTN HQ computers and figure out how to shut down Brell? Nope. Did he make an amazing French dish which caused even the small heart of Orbach to grow and confess what Brell is plotting because great food conquers all? Nope. None of it mattered. The script wastes valuable pages to explore what Ripper does because it has no idea what to do with Ripper, and must just mark time until Zeus has been built up sufficiently enough of a threat to him. Act I establishes Brell wants to do Ripper in and cannot because his regular mooks fail. Act II is about Brell honing Zeus as his weapon to destroy Ripper. All well and good, but in the meantime Ripper does nothing relevant to the story or his character. Fixing IBM printers is not a character trait.
Ripper’s “arc” under the most generous of terms is having a brother be potentially paralyzed and gaining a lady love. But since he had women mooning after him all movie and it is implied gals dig him even before the start of the film, the lady love thing is not shattering. Even in Act III, when it seems Ripper is ready to throw the match just to ensure Sam’s safety not once do we feel that Ripper would not do that for say, oh a little kid that Brell kidnapped and threatened to harm. There is nothing special about Sam, as far as the story goes. Although, she has more of an arc than Ripper, as she learns to love. What does Ripper learn? That he can help his little brother overcome paralysis and sickness by murdering people? “What’s that, little brother? You got lupus? Hang on, I’ll beat up a 300 pound ‘roid monster to death before you and you’ll be right as rain.”
As previously stated, this is the vainest of all vanity projects. Now, let us see how the film improved on the script.
Spoiler alert: it totally didn’t.
No Holds Barred: The Casting
The extent of New Line Cinema contribution to the project is a bit murky, given the individuals involved and some rather nasty math which I will describe later, and it seems for all intents and purposes Vince McMahon took it into his head to do an independent movie and then distribute it. This meant that the traditional support structure was not there. It also meant, unless there was a strong veteran producer guiding the whole thing, the picture would either be in the hands of the director or some moneyed fool who was assembling the project. There were no veteran producers on the set. And the director picked was a TV movie man. Now, today, in the age of streaming prestige projects and the fact that there are no more mid-budget feature films in theaters any more (even before Covid), the world of feature film has become a barren wasteland of big blockbusters engineered for maximum audience quadrants and cheap horror films which make back their money because people need(ed) cheap scares and TV has lost a lot of its stigma. But, well into the aughts, there was a clear line of division between film and TV, and actors were warned against getting involved with the small screen. However, I don’t want to smear the director Thomas J. Wright with the brush of a hack, because he is actually a genuine success story. He started as an artist doing paintings that introduced each episode of Rod Sterling’s Night Gallery, and then transitioned to doing storyboards in the world of film where no less a luminary than Alfred Hitchcock liked the cut of jib so much he decided to sponsor him for membership into the Director’s Guild. Sadly, with such a pedigree he still did not get very far, and as we shall soon see this film did not light a fire under him either. For purposes of our tale so far, he is not a man with the power to rein in anyone on the set, leaving power squarely in the hands of Vince McMahon and Hogan. Scanning through the rest of the names present behind the camera one is struck by the underwhelming lot of them. No name jumps out. And that makes sense, because without major studio backing, the agents steering talent to the project would not exactly be lining them up to come, especially with the script we just read making the rounds. This leaves us with a lot of journeymen and never-will-bes, and also brings up a mystery: what was the proposed budget of the film? Variously, at different points of his life, Vince McMahon let it be known to his minions it was $20 million, $6 million or even $1.5 million. In his ghost written first autobiography Hogan stated it was $8 million. The real number is, as I stated prior, a mystery, but I will hazard some guesses based on what we will see and some of the rumors I had heard. Hulk Hogan’s paycheck is likewise a mystery, though a persistent rumor has it Vince McMahon paid him a million to do star in the flick. That number too would enter lore as well as the circumstances under which it was given, but I am getting ahead of myself again.
The question of where to film was settled early – Georgia. The tax credits were nice and the laws were lax, just like how Vince McMahon likes it. The fact that he was filming in the backyard of his long term wrestling enemy and new may have helped as well. With so many things settling into place the time was to cast the talent in front of the camera. For Brell, Kurt Fuller was chosen. The rest were then unknowns, except Sam. Sam was to be played by Joan Severance, a model turned actress, who was dipping her toe into the world of acting. In her terrible, horrible no good, very bad book, Linda Hogan (wife of the Hulk) would claim that Joan and Hulk had an affair on the set. Her evidence was that she was getting bad vibes from Joan when she visited the set and she noted that Joan was very pale. If you had read Linda’s book – and please don’t – you would know that Linda associates paleness with evil. No, I am not kidding. Linda associates tanning with healthiness and goodness, and if someone is pale, she does not much care for them. Don’t look at me like that. It’s in her stupid book. For Joan Severance, this would be her second feature film. I know IMDB lists several credits prior to “No Holds Barred,” but please recall IMDB lists projects by their release date, not their filming date. NHB was made prior to the rest of the ’88 and ’89 projects of Severance. Her only role prior to this film was a bit part in “Lethal Weapon,” when the then reigning and undisputed king of action flicks producer Joel Silver discovered her in a bar and gave her his card and told her she should be in the movies. Severance once gave an interview where when asked about her work experience, she answered, “babysitter, model, supermodel, then actress.” It’s a good line, but it also means in those Sam-Rip scenes, it is actually Hogan who is the veteran actor.
For the flashy and would-be memorable role of Neanderthal, the king of roughnecks at Spike’s bar, Hogan approached Stan Hansen, a fellow wrestler. Hansen and Hogan had worked together years and years, in various federations, including the old WWWF, and then in New Japan, where Hansen’s cowboy act got over with the audience. Hansen and Hogan teamed several times as well, and got along. At the time of the filming, Hansen was in AJPW. It is likely Hogan offered the position as a favor, because it would allow Hansen a chance to get health insurance via the Screen Actors’ Guild. Wrestlers were and are classified as independent contractors, remember? Hansen had always insisted on carrying health insurance, no matter the cost, since the early days of his career, to fix all sorts of injuries a wrestler may obtain in the course of his every day work. When he found out that the Guild would carry him on their insurance for up to three years if he did the feature film, Hansen was all-in. Rounding out the cast were his fellow wrestlers and WWF talent, who may or may not have been compensated for additional work on the film to supplement their WWF pay. Only one role remained to be filled – Zeus.
As casting began, McMahon and Hulk auditioned many. Well, so Hulk says. Then one actor stepped in. He was heavily muscled and had a shaved head. He had taken the trouble to use a marker to write Zs into the side of his head, and put electrical tape around his wrists to simulate wrist tape. Aware that Hulk Hogan was a shoot 6’5″ (though billed taller), the 6’4″ actor decided to wear lifts in his boots to appear larger than Hulk and therefore be more imposing as Zeus. A man who knew how to pump iron, the actor also made sure to do a 100 pushups in either the parking lot prior to going into the audition room and also slathered his chest with baby oil to let his muscles glisten. When he came in, he had one more card to play: he was born blind in one eye and the effect of on it has face gave him a striking look. He came in and hissed his lines and per the actor, Vince McMahon turned to Hogan and said, “That’s Zeus.” The actor’s name was Tommy “Tiny” Lister Jr. A loner by temperament with a hatred for male authority figures, Lister hated coaches and teammates alike. He also had an outsized homophobia, going so far as to speak about being revolted about touching men in any context. But with his powerful frame, sports were an easy outlet into higher education. He chose shotput and set records for his school. Middling through life he fell into acting. And he came in and took the role. A good tale, but also one that omits things. Such as Lister had an agent, and it was the same agent Hogan used. And it was said agent who sent Lister to the audition. It would be impossible for Hogan to not know of such things prior to Lister walking through the door. For his part, Lister also omits the detail. Upon seeing their new Zeus, who bulked up for the audition by getting to 285 pounds, Vince had only one ask: take three months to prepare for the role. Somehow Lister immediately what that meant, for when he showed up to shoot he was 305 pounds and all his gains were pure muscle.
Next up, we will dive into the film itself.