Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Saturday, December 9, 2017

WHY DO I OWN THIS?: Santa with Muscles (1996)

Once again, my “Why Do I Own This?” column forces me to consider the career of Terry “Hulk” Hogan. Not his career as the Man Who Took Down Gawker with a Racist Sex Tape. Nor his career as perhaps the most iconic pro-wrestler of all time. I'm talking about that brief period in time when Hulk Hogan was allowed to star in movies. Due to his all-American face antics inside the ring appealing primarily to kids, most of Hogan's movies aimed for the primary school crowd. After the doldrums of quasi-hits like “Suburban Commando” and “Mr. Nanny,” Hogan's acting career more-or-less bottomed out with “Santa with Muscles.” The yuletide kiddie comedy is widely considered one of the worst Christmas movies of all time. Even as a kid, when I could reasonably consider myself a fan of Hogan, I missed this movie existing. Despite all this, for some reason, “Santa with Muscles” resides in my DVD collection. Good God, why?

The Hulkster stars as Blake Thorn. A bodybuilding millionaire who has built his fortune on diet supplements and narcissism, he goes on a crazy motorcycle-and-paintball trip with his cronies. Their riotous adventures ends up attracting the police. Blake ducks out of the high speed pursuit and into a shopping mall. By the way, it's close to Christmas, though the snowless California December makes that hard to guess. Blake grabs a Santa Claus suit as a disguise. He then bumps his head and catches that type of amnesia that only exist in movies. Blake wakes up believing himself to be Santa Claus. He heroically foils a robbery before becoming the defender of an orphanage threatened by a mad scientist.

In many ways, “Santa with Muscles” is a typically dumb kids movie. The script is so loaded with cliches, that you wonder if the writers put any effort into it at all. The entire premise hinges around a bump on the head causing amnesia, the laziest kind of story set-up you can think of. A scrappy hero coming along to protect an orphanage from an evil land developer is another sappy, cliché story idea. Naturally, Hogan's Santa Claus landing in an orphanage allows him to have cutesy relationships with the little kids. Including an adorable, lisping little girl who likes to sing songs in the pews. Upon regaining his memory, Blake finds his cold heart has been entirely thawed by the ragamuffins. Many of the action scenes are goofy and comedic, functioning on the simplest form of slapstick. All of these are cliches of the highest order, coughed back up with minimal effort.

At the same time, “Santa with Muscles” is also a really weird and, occasionally, interestingly stupid movie. Ed Begley Jr.'s bad guy is introduced ordering his henchman to torture another man. The aforementioned henchmen each have an odd gimmick. One guy is a doctor that knows kung-fu, another wears a beekeeper outfit and sprays methane gas. The sole female has electric superpowers. The quartet drive around in an ice cream truck, for unexplained reasons. It almost seems like “Santa with Muscles” was trying to be a superhero movie of sorts, as one of the orphans designs Blake a costume and a utility belt. (She's inspired by her favorite comic book hero, named Mega Man presumably because the screenwriters were unfamiliar with Capcom.) Things get even weirder when one orphan mentions magical fairies living in the church. This precedes the heroes discovering a secret cavern located under the building... A cave full of a rare type of hugely valuable crystals... Crystals that explode when struck or stepped on. I really didn't see that insanity coming.

In “Santa with Muscles,” Hulk Hogan essentially has to play two separate characters. This stretches Hogan's limited acting abilities far past their breaking point. In his early scenes, as the narcissistic millionaire, Hogan acts broadly. He coughs up list of asshole life rules, like a less murderous/more tanned version of Patrick Bateman. After receiving his bump on the head, Hogan begins playing Blake as a slightly clueless defender of the innocent. The highlights of Hogan's acting include a stilted television interview, which is less amusing and more genuinely awkward, and a singing scene. Yes, the Hulkster sings an insipid pop song with the little girl called “Angel Baby.” Hogan's singing abilities do not inspire much awe.

As in “Suburban Commando,” “Santa with Muscles” packs its supporting cast full of talented performers, in order to make up for Hogan's limited star power. Ed Begley Jr.'s performance as the bad guy, a germaphobe who eventually walks around in a space suit, is manic and goofy. He certainly acts circles around Hogan. Steve Valentine happily hams it up as Doctor Blight, the kung-fu kicking doctor who swings his stethoscope like a nun-chuck. Character actor Don Stark appears as Lenny, the mall elf who becomes Blake's unwitting sidekick. Though initially hoping to simply steal Blake's millions, Stark's Lenny always comes around to the ways of love and charity. Clint Howard gets the film's sole intentionally funny line, as a beat cop incensed by Blake's “Santa fraud.” Lastly, future star and sex symbol Mila Kunis appears as the snarkiest of the orphans. It's clear to see Kunis' talent, even when cracking lame jokes about comic books. She has a likable energy and clearly loves performing, even at this age.

Why Do I Own This?: I own “Santa with Muscles” mostly because I enjoy having a movie called “Santa with Muscles” on my DVD rack. Is it a terrible, incredibly stupid movie? Absolutely. Yet, as obviously bad as the film is, there's something weirdly endearing about how dumb it is. There's a lot of weirdness in this dumb-ass kid's movie, which contrasts in an interesting way with its sappy elements. Calling it one of the worst Christmas movies of all time is understandable but not entirely fair. There's probably holiday stuff out there equally dumb but lacking this film's half-witted moments of oddball inspiration. [5/10]

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