Santa with Muscles (1996) (part 1 of 11)
Before the advent of stars like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson or “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, there was Hulk Hogan. Born Terry Bollea, Hulk Hogan was one of the most popular, charismatic, and most t-shirt ripping-est stars of the WWF in the early 80’s. Without him, it’s unlikely that Vince McMahon’s small, regional organization would have ever become the vast global WWE Media Empire it is today. (Which also means that without the Hulkster, we would have never had the XFL. So really, it cuts both ways.)
Hulk Hogan is a natural target for this site, especially since his career is virtually identical to that of another favorite here, Mr. T. For a while there, the two men were inextricably linked, and they share more than a few career highlights.
They both started out as bodybuilders and both worked as bouncers, which is how they both caught the attention of Sylvester Stallone. Stallone gave them both sizable roles in Rocky III, with Mr. T playing bad guy Clubber Lang and Hulk Hogan playing an evil wrestler named Thunderlips.
After their film debuts, both men went on to get their own Saturday morning cartoons. While Mr. T was beating the crap out of crocodiles and sharks on his brain-dead Mister T cartoon, Hulk headlined the WWF-produced Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling. This cartoon was notable for inexplicably featuring Brad Garrett of future Everybody Loves Raymond fame as the voice of Hulk Hogan [?!?!].
Hulk and Mr. T co-headlined the very first Wrestlemania, which set the record for the largest attendance ever at an indoor event. It was this same event that saw Hulk “win” his very first WWF championship, a “feat” he would go onto repeat five more times.
To promote the match, Hulk and Mr. T went on a whirlwind of appearances, where they did everything from co-host Saturday Night Live (one of the few times in its history that the show had two hosts) to appearing, infamously, on a talk show called Hot Properties hosted by Richard Belzer.
During that appearance, Hulk put Belzer in a chin lock and accidentally knocked him unconscious. Mr. T’s pathological inability to stop talking trash about the incident inspired Belzer to sue Hulk, Vince McMahon, and the WWF for five million dollars. They eventually settled for an undisclosed sum, but it’s said that Belzer was able to use the money he got from Hogan to buy a chateau in France that he referred to as “Chez Hulk”. Unsurprisingly, around this time was when Hulk and Mr. T parted ways for good.
Still, they kept on the same career path, and both Hulk and T tried to parlay their wrestling fame into movie success. But alas, the films they made were just as soft-headed as their personas in the ring.
We’re already well aware of the types of projects Mr. T was involved in at this point in his career. Hulk Hogan, for his part, was taking on his first starring role in No Holds Barred, a plotless, pointless muddle that should have taught a lesson to everyone involved.
But, as this site has proven time and time again, they never do learn, and so Hulk was given other starring roles. Sadly, he decided to position himself as more of a kid’s star, and from that genius career move came Mr. Nanny, The Secret Agent Club, and our current focus, Santa with Muscles.
Directed with all the flair of a Disney Channel original movie, Santa with Muscles boasts a script loaded with unfunny puns and broad, painful slapstick. The cinematography could best be described as “workmanlike”, while the cast members seem barely awake, with performances ranging from “hey, at least it’s not an infomercial” to “one more line of coke should get me through this take just fine!”
The movie was easily overshadowed by another famous bodybuilder doing light family fare around the same time in Jingle All the Way. Actually, that’s way overstating it, because Santa with Muscles barely even registered. It opened on a paltry 98 screens, and didn’t even crack the top thirty its first week in release.
But worst of all, it’s Santa with Muscles that was the final straw for most of Hulk’s loyal fans. After all, trick me into seeing one bad movie, shame on me. Trick me into seeing three bad movies, shame on the entire human race. This is why the movie currently sits at #10 on the IMDb’s list of the hundred worst movies of all time as voted by their users. And rightfully so.
Years later, it seems Hulk and Mr. T still have the same career going. Now that movie roles have dried up, they’re both currently doing idiotic commercials for 10-10-220 and 1-800-Collect, respectively.
But sadly, this is probably the only gig where Mr. T has done a little better than Hulk. Whereas T gets to do most of his commercials solo, Hulk has ended up co-headlining his ads with fellow washed-up 80’s persona Alf. And if there’s a surer sign of career demise than hawking something opposite a puppet, I’d like to hear it.
Hulk had a brief resurgence in popularity when he rejoined the WWE in the 90’s and “won” his sixth Wrestlemania championship. But, just as quickly, his star seems to be on the wane again, so I figured I’d better get this review out while people actually still give a damn.
We know we’re in trouble from the very first frame, because the movie opens with an overly precious voiceover “letter to Santa” delivered by the Stock Precocious Little Girl character. Her VO describes a “bad man” named Ebner Frost who’s got “weird people working for him”. She’s afraid he’s going to “do something real bad this Christmas!” You mean, he’s gonna direct this movie?
Accompanying this voiceover letter are random shots of the estate of Ebner Frost. Although there’s no way the average viewer would know it’s Frost’s estate at this point in the movie. All we see is a large brownstone, which is surrounded by odd jets of mist shooting up into the air. None of it makes a bit of sense, and so it’s a fitting way to kick off this ordeal.
After the title of the movie is shown, we cut to the bell tower of a midsize church, and in one of the windows of the bell tower is an animatronic Santa ho-ho-ho’ing away. Little Miss Precocious continues her letter in VO, describing how Ebner Frost and his employees have been “real bullies to everyone in Lakeville” and that the Cruelty Quotient is so high that it’s driving people right out of town.
In fact, Frost is so wicked that he’s “trying to take our orphanage away from us!” The midsize church, as it turns out, is that orphanage. Making me wonder how an orphanage can afford such a huge, expensive piece of real estate. But, hey, maybe that’s just the Scrooge in me talking.
Anyway, the letter goes on some more, desperately trying to tug at our heart strings, but really only tugging at our colons as the girl writes about how the orphanage is “the only home we know!” She asks for Santa’s help, yadda yadda yadda, asks him to come a little early this year, blah blah blah. Sorry, filmmakers, but none of this is working on me. For my heart is cold, and my soul is black.
There’s a ruckus outside the girl’s window, and she looks out just in time to see someone towing away the orphanage’s Christmas tree [?]. Okay, what? I never knew the repo man came for trees. Emilio Estevez lied to me! Anyway, the girl nonchalantly returns to her letter and reiterates how the orphanage might get closed soon, then signs the letter “Elizabeth Bentley Walsh”.
“P.S.,” she writes, “I hope you’re really out there, Santa!” On this line, we cut to the star of our show, Hulk Hogan himself. Here, he’s sporting a hideous toupee as he peers through some weeds. I sure hope that Hulk Hogan with Infomercial Host Hair is your thing, because he’s got quite the bleach blonde hair-helmet going on up there. Also, he’s wearing desert camouflage fatigues, which is hardly ever a promising sign of anything entertaining about to happen, in any movie.
Desert Storm Hulk scopes out a relatively large estate (I mean, it’s not Schwarzenegger’s place, but it’s a lot bigger than your average house) and spies on all the servants. Eventually, he sneaks up and ambushes the gardener, who’s currently sniffing a potted plant [?].
The gardener goes on the defensive. He appears to be wielding a machete, but Hulk “deftly” relieves him of the huge weapon. They begin to fight, and about here I became a little crestfallen. This is because the two guys look like they’re doing a practice take and had no idea the director would use this shot in the finished movie. Again, not a good sign.
Anyway, the gardener is quickly subdued, and Hulk scolds, “Never stop to smell the roses!” Amazingly, he doesn’t add “brother!” to the end of that. Hulk then literally steps on the poor guy as he heads for the rear patio. He reaches for a small golden box on the patio table, but stops when a guy in a stereotypical chef’s outfit comes barreling towards him with a meat tenderizer.
Hulk dispatches the chef quickly, but then another servant comes running out, ready for action. I’m not exactly sure what kind of servant this guy is supposed to be, but he sure likes to scream a lot. Generic Servant Guy jumps in the air and delivers a spinning kick to Hulk’s face. To no one’s surprise, the Hulkster instantly recovers, picks the guy up, and tosses him over the patio railing.
Next, he’s confronted by a guy dressed like a chauffer who’s holding nunchucks. Because when you think “chauffeur”, you think “nunchucks”, right? Okay, okay, it’s actually a tire iron he’s holding. He’s just wielding it like nunchucks. Still, lots of faux “Oriental” music is heard as Hulk also takes the chauffeur down.
Generic Servant Guy comes back screaming for vengeance, but this time he’s brandishing a giant rake like it’s a jujitsu staff. He quickly gets knocked out, but suddenly the gardener’s back. Showing the kind of ingenuity that could easily earn him a spot on Backyard Wrestling, the gardener comes at Hulk with a weed whacker [!!].
Hulk runs to the patio table and grabs a silver plate to use as a shield [!!]. He has to dump the breakfast off first, though not before Hulk sniffs it and compliments the “Brie omelet”. Which, I believe, is the first and last time the word “Brie” shall ever pass the lips of Hulk Hogan.
Once he fends off the weed whacker, he uses the plate to knock the gardener out. And this, of course, is accompanied by a loud cymbal crash on the soundtrack. Then the butler comes out with a glass on a silver tray. He removes the glass and tosses the tray at Hulk like he’s Oddjob, but Hulk catches the tray, then uses both the plate and the tray to box the chef’s ears and knock him out cold.
However, it’s all for naught, because Hulk looks around and sees himself suddenly surrounded by servants, including some random guy holding a rolling pin. What, no maid at this estate? Anyone else think it would have been hilarious to see Hulk pummel a gal in a French maid costume? Wait, there’s an idea for a new WWE wrestler! Somebody call Vince McMahon!
Anyway, it looks real bad for the Hulkster, until he suddenly calls out, “Time?” The chauffer looks at his watch and says it was four minutes and twenty-three seconds. Meanwhile, the butler gives Hulk a robe, while all the other servants compliment his performance. Yep, these servants are actually Hulk’s servants, and he has them all attack him periodically for exercise. It’s just like how Clouseau had Cato attack him in the Pink Panther movies, except not funny.
Alas, the servants’ attempts to ingratiate themselves to their boss fall on deaf ears. Hulk calls them all “weasels” and tells them to forget about their Christmas bonuses.
As they disperse, Hulk tells his chef to “cut down on my cholesterol”, just as they happen to walk right past a table displaying canisters of Hulk’s own personal line of protein powder called “Blake’s Way”. Hulk picks up a can and complains to his butler that his picture on the front is too small. “And have ’em make me more tan!” Hulk, if you were any more tan, you’d be a leather carrying case.
The butler gets a cell phone call, then informs Hulk that visitors have arrived. Hulk grumbles about business interrupting his fun, and decides the occasion calls for another one of “Blake’s Rules”. Hulk says to his butler, “Make a note, Chas!” He declares that rule #386 will be “Never mix business with pleasure!” Hulk then proceeds to do just that as he goes off to meet his visitors.
As Hulk heads towards the entrance with his toady employees following close behind, he stresses the absolute importance of his rules. He asks, “What would we have without Blake’s Rules, anyway?” The chef replies, “Fun?” before Butler Chas elbows him in the gut and says, “Chaos, Mr. Thorne!” Chas compliments him on the sheer brilliance and clarity of Blake’s Rules. Especially Rule #10, which is “Shoot Bonnie Lee Bakely in the head.” Oh, wait, I’m thinking of the wrong Blake.
In rapid-fire drill-instructor style, Hulk has Chef Pierre recite rule #105, and in his French accent Pierre shouts, “Never give an inch, especially when you can take one!” And Chef Pierre salutes [?] as he recites it. Does anyone else find it odd that a Frenchman knows this particular philosophy by heart? Hey, Pierre, why don’t you take that ideology back to Paris and change a few hearts and minds?
Hulk then has his chauffeur Franco recite rule #91, which is “Never lend a hand, you might need it later!” Butler Chas hands Hulk a paintball gun, and Hulk loads it up while Chas tells him about a charity that wants to hold a Christmas fundraiser in his “mansion”. Uh, hate to break it to you fellas, but Wayne Manor is a “mansion”. Hulk lives in the kind of place easily afforded by guys who own used car dealerships.
Regardless, Hulk flatly refuses. “If you give them a taste, they want more!” Well, I’ve already had a taste of this movie, so there goes that rule.
Instead, Hulk has Chas send them “those carbohydrate bars that aren’t selling anyway”, and makes a special point of telling Chas to “write it off”. So, are we getting what a Scrooge-like dick Hulk is supposed to be? I mean, in this movie, at least? Good. So let’s just ignore for the moment that this movie’s grasp on “writing it off” seems about on par with Kramer’s on Seinfeld.
Hulk heads out and meets up with a bunch of guys wearing pink doo-rags. They all appear to be Hulk’s friends, and they all seem to be there for a paintball match. So, I really don’t understand that earlier line about mixing business with pleasure, but whatever.
Hulk declares, “Let’s roll!” and all the guys jump into Jeeps and onto dirt bikes and head off. Meanwhile, Hulk and his very special buddy hop into a Hummer. Yes, Hulk drives a Hummer in this movie. Who woulda thought?