Saturday, June 28, 2014

Instant Action: No Holds Barred (1989)

I'll take some more of Stan Hansen, thank you very much!

Written By: Dennis Hacken
Directed By: Thomas J. Wright

No Holds Barred is a very ridiculous film, there’s no two ways around that. I’m not going to focus too much on that though, because I think the ridiculousness of No Holds Barred is obvious and appealing. The dookie scene in particular is on a whole different level from the rest of cinema. The paper thin characters, the cheesy 1980s music, Hulk Hogan’s acting, and the action scenes that revolve around muscle bound guys who can barely move, these are but a few of the ridiculous factors that make No Holds Barred pretty darn great.

I take the above as a given when it comes to No Holds Barred, but for a hardcore wrestling fan there’s a lot more than meets the eye with this film. Vince McMahon has his hands all over the production of No Holds Barred, and in the most interesting ways. Brell is the clear villain of the film, but he’s doing the same things that Mr. McMahon did to destroy the promotional wrestling system. The style of wrestling being promoted by Brell is that of brawling with very little technique, a style that came to dominate the way Mr. McMahon wanted his wrestling to look. The man bankrolling No Holds Barred is the real life version of Brell, and that’s pretty darn fascinating to watch go down.

There are other interesting tidbits in No Holds Barred. Take the character of Bubba, as played by Stan Hansen. In my mind this was a clear screw you from Mr. McMahon to fans of more realistic pro wrestling. He knew how hardcore wrestling fans loved Mr. Hansen and would seek out The Lariat’s work in Japan all the time. It makes perfect sense then that he’s portrayed as an out of shape and lumbering oaf in No Holds Barred. Someone like Mr. Hansen doesn’t fit the muscle bound look that Mr. McMahon favors in his pro wrestlers.

The action scenes in No Holds Barred are also kind of fascinating. Said action is big muscle bound gorillas who are barely able to move clunking around throwing badly telegraphed punches and kicks. For Mr. McMahon this was the stuff of pro wrestling action, no one wanted to see actual athletes, but rather they wanted to see oiled up muscles and bad tans. It’s amazing to watch the action in No Holds Barred unfold because it’s quite terrible, and yet everyone involved with the film clearly thinks they are producing top flight action set pieces.

The climactic showdown is also delightful to break down. On the one hand the film wants the viewer to believe that Zeus is a killing machine who is laying waste to the hero, Rip Thomas.  On the other hand the film wants the viewer to buy into the fact that Rip is holding back for ulterior reasons. Those two things can’t both be happening, at least not in terms of creating drama and tension in the finale. Yet, Thomas J. Wright’s film plays the finale as if both of those are really happening and it’s almost mind boggling in its execution.

As a pure action film, No Holds Barred is tripe. There’s almost nothing to recommend and I can see why so many cinephiles easily dismiss No Holds Barred as a waste of time. However, there’s a lot to digest in terms of the prescient nature of the film towards the pro wrestling landscape. Is it possible for a film to be incredibly dumb and really smart at the same time? In the case of No Holds Barred it certainly is and that’s why this film is an alluring watch.



Bill Thompson

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