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Suburban Commando

Suburban Commando

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Today’s feature is one of the few films to star the now-disgraced wrestling superstar Hulk Hogan: Suburban Commando.

Suburban Commando was written by Frank Cappello, who also wrote the films Constantine, He Was A Quiet Man, and No Way Back. The movie was directed by Burt Kennedy, who was also behind the western comedy Support Your Local Sheriff and the John Wayne flick The Train Robbers.

The cinematographer for Suburban Commando was Bernd Heinl, who didn’t have a ton of credits to his name, but shot the movies The Little Vampire and Bagdad Cafe. Likewise, the editor on the film, Terry Stokes, cut a number of horror sequels over his career with Critters 4, Critters 3, The Blob, and A Nightmare on Elm Street 3.

suburban2The team of special effects artists on Suburban Commando was made up of Steve Johnson (Dead Heat, Humanoids From The Deep, The Dentist, Leviathan), Dean Miller (Waterworld, Fright Night, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Tales From The Crypt), Bill Corso (Deadpool, Foxcatcher, Dreamcatcher, Galaxy Quest, The Garbage Pail Kids Movie), Thomas Bellissimo (Red State, Dogma, Jackie Brown), Charles Belardinelli (Saw, Killer Klowns From Outer Space, Resurrection, Bordello of Blood), Tassilo Baur (DeepStar Six, House), John Calpin (Lake Placid, Small Soldiers, Congo), Joel Harlow (Tusk, Battlefield Earth, The Langoliers, Leprechaun) Brian Sipe (Son of the Mask, Van Helsing), and Mike Smithson (Dollman, Dead Heat, The Island of Dr. Moreau, Tank Girl, Battlefield Earth).

Original Cinema Quad Poster - Movie Film PostersThe visual effects team for Suburban Commando included Richard Cross (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III, Muppets From Space), Heather Davis Baker (Van Helsing, Wolf, The Master of Disguise), Robert Habros (Theodore Rex, SpaceCamp, Army of Darkness, Leviathan), Richard Malzahn (SpaceCamp, Josie and The Pussycats, Dune, Leviathan), Brett B. White (Puppetmaster, Gremlins 2).

The makeup work on the film was done by Cheri Montesanto-Medcalf, who also contributed to the effects on movies like Tank Girl, Mr. Nanny, and RoboCop 2.

The score for Suburban Commando was composed by David Michael Frank, who also provided music for films like Poison Ivy, Out for Justice, and Hard to Kill.

suburban4The team of producers for the movie included Howard Gottfried (Network, Body Double), Deborah Moore (The Mask, Surf Ninjas, The Island of Dr. Moreau, Heart Condition). Kevin Moreton (Menace II Society), John Marshall (Lawnmower Man 2, Supergator), and the film’s star, Hulk Hogan.

The cast of Suburban Commando was headlined by Hulk Hogan (Santa With Muscles, No Holds Barred, 3 Ninjas: High Noon at Mega Mountain), Christopher Lloyd (Baby Geniuses, Foodfight!, Who Framed Roger Rabbit), Shelley Duvall (The Shining, Popeye), and Larry Miller (Foodfight!, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang).

The plot of Suburban Commando follows an expert interstellar warrior who becomes stranded on Earth, specifically in a suburban community. The hard-nosed soldier has to adapt to the customs of the area while repairing his spaceship, leading to a number of shenanigans.

suburban3Suburban Commando was originally written for Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito, but they chose to make Twins instead. This decision led to the screenplay being sold to another studio, and then significantly reworked into a science fiction story .

Tragically, a special effects worker (Michael Colvin) was killed in an on set accident involving a faulty trap door, which he was testing at the time.

Suburban Commando features a number of reused props from other productions, including guns from Masters of the Universe and the P.K.E. meter from Ghostbusters.

Suburban Commando was not well received upon its initial release, and it currently holds a 4.3 rating on IMDb alongside Rotten Tomatoes scores of 20% (critics) and 32% (audiences). Even worse, it only managed to gross $6.9 million in its theatrical run on an estimated budget of $11 million, making it a significant financial failure for the studio.

I like Christopher Lloyd, partially because he always seems to put effort into his roles, regardless of how bad the greater movie might be. Both Baby Geniuses and Foodfight! come to mind, but his delivery of the line “I was frozen today!” in Suburban Commando is the perfect example of how much passion and intensity the man is capable of injecting into absolute nonsense.

Hogan, on the other hand, is about as terrible as he is with any of his acting roles in Suburban Commando. For someone who seems to be a natural showman, and has spent his entire professional life as a glorified stage performer, he has always seemed awkward in from of a camera. I think this has at least a little to do with the lack of a live crowd when filming, which seems to be what actually gives him his motivation and energy to perform. It is kind of weird to even picture him on a quiet sound stage, surrounded by cameras and boom microphones.

Knowing that this screenplay was initially intended for the duo of Danny DeVito and Arnold Schwarzenegger brings up all kinds of “what if?” scenarios. It is impossible not to picture this movie with the Twins duo after you have the knowledge of this screenplay’s background. That said, I think Lloyd fills in his role just fine, and is probably as good or better than what DeVito could have pulled off. Hogan, on the other hand, just doesn’t have Schwarzenegger’s comedic chops, which is really saying something given his work on Hercules in New York and Jingle All The Way. But, for what it is worth, Schwarzenegger is more expressive than Hogan, and generally seems to have better timing and reactions for a comedic role. As bad as Hercules in New York is, Arnold has come a long way since then. Hogan, on the other hand, hasn’t ever really gotten better at acting since No Holds Barred. If anything, he’s gotten worse, given Santa With Muscles and 3 Ninjas: High Noon at Mega Mountain were actually later in his acting career. He was pretty entertaining as a voice actor in China, IL, but that was more self-parody than anything else. Now that the guy has been outed as a racist, publicly disgraced, and disowned by the WWE, it seems unlikely that he will be getting any more acting roles. Which, really, is for the best.

There is a really perplexing clip from Suburban Commando that has made the rounds on the internet, in which someone in the background of a scene appears to randomly toss their dog into the ocean. It isn’t relevant to the plot at all, and the context doesn’t help, but the image is certainly worth checking out the the sheer bizarreness of it.

suburban7Suburban Commando does have entertaining moments to it, but in general it is a pretty generic family-friendly pseudo-comedy. The plot is silly, the acting is bad, and even the music is pretty atrocious throughout. However, I think it is worth checking out for bad movie fans, at least for the novelty value of it as a Hogan/Lloyd team-up that literally nobody wanted. Also, Larry Miller always seems to be delightful when he shows up in a movie, and certainly doesn’t phone it in here as Christopher Lloyd’s sketchy boss.

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Plotopsy Podcast #5 – Santa With Muscles

Santa With Muscles

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Continuing with the “15 Days of Bad Christmas Movies”, today’s entry is on the 1996 Hulk Hogan vehicle “Santa With Muscles”. Get ready for some Santamania!

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“Santa With Muscles” is one of a handful of attempts to turn Hulk Hogan into a legitimate crossover star. After his performance in “Rocky III”, Hulk starred in a string of unsuccessful movies. Much can be said of his films like “No Holds Barred” and “Suburban Commando”, but his movie career was undoubtedly more successful than his brief music career, which consisted of one hilarious album entitled “Hulk Rules”. I suggest looking it up on YouTube, it is pretty laughable.

The plot of Santa With Muscles centers around the egomaniac health mogul and millionaire Blake Thorne (played by Hulk Hogan), who, after becoming severely concussed during a run-in with police, wakes up believing himself to be Santa Claus. This leads to Thorne becoming a vigilante orphan advocate in his local community, all while a con man pretending to be his elf (Don Stark) tries to prevent him from re-discovering his identity as part of an elaborate attempt at bank fraud.

santamuscles5Another plot surfaces when a it is revealed that a local eccentric health-obsessive and germophobe (Ed Begley, Jr) is terrorizing an orphanage via his super-powered minions (their powers, of course, are not explained). Their actions prompt Thorne to repeatedly intervene on behalf of the orphanage, gaining him minor celebrity status as a peace-keeper along the way.

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Goon with electric powers, for reasons.

Among the orphanage residents is the now famous actress Mila Kunis, in one of her earliest film roles. Interestingly enough, co-star Don Stark would later play her father for many years on the hit sitcom “That 70’s Show”.santamuscles7The sleeveless Santa suit that Hogan wears for much of the movie is designed in-story by Mila Kunis’s character, Sarah. When asked about the design, she claims that it was inspired by a comic book, specifically “Mega Man #96”. Mega Man is a well known video game hero and one of the franchise faces of Capcom. While he has had a couple of comic book runs, none have made it to #98, and the blue robotic boy does not much resemble Santa Claus, nor does he use a utility belt or wear a red suit. That said, his creator, Dr Light, bears a significant similarity to the jolly saint nick. But, I’m willing to bet that there isn’t a real connection there.

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Dr Light and Mega Man

The executive producer of “Santa With Muscles” is none other than Jordan Belfourt, a man now famous as “The Wolf of Wall Street”. Belfourt served as Executive Producer of six movies in 1996, including “Santa with Muscles” and another Hulk Hogan family feature called “Secret Agent Club”. Belfourt also became good friends with notorious B-movie director David DeCoteau during this brief fling with the movie business. DeCoteau later loosely adapted Belfourt’s tales from Wall Street into a homoerotic werewolf movie called “The Wolves of Wall Street”, a flick that predated Scorcese’s famous work by a solid decade.

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At the beginning of “Santa With Muscles”, Hulk Hogan is playing a character clearly based heavily on himself, but he is inexplicably a complete dick to everyone around him. Why might that be? Well, this is more justified than you might think: it isn’t a Dickensian redemption tale for the sake of Christmas alone.

In July of 1996, Hulk Hogan made the shocking move to turn heel for the first time in his career: a term used to signify a “villain” in the pro wrestling community. Ironically, this turn to the dark side coincided with his adoption of the nickname “Hollywood”: I’m guessing he had higher aspirations for his film career than “3 Ninjas: High Noon at Mega Mountain”. In any case Hulk continued on as a consistent villain in the WCW wrestling league for a number of years after this. The November 1996 release of “Santa With Muscles” places it in the midst of Hulk’s sinister turn, so it makes sense that he plays a callous and cold character as the story unfolds.

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Hogan’s “Hollywood” heel persona

According to IMDb’s trivia section, the original author’s draft of “Santa with Muscles” was changed so extensively that he sued to have his name taken off of the film. I haven’t found any information to independently substantiate the rumor, but I certainly wouldn’t be shocked if this were true. The three credited writers on the film include one person with no other credits of any kind, a fellow who is only credited as an assortment of extras (he played a water slide attendant in “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure”, apparently), and another person with a handful of credits solely as a casting assistant. It isn’t exactly a writing dream team.

“Santa With Muscles” director John Murlowski was also responsible for the other 1996 Hulk Hogan movie, “Secret Agent Club”. However, he is probably best known for helming the film “Cop Dog”: a kid’s movie in which the ghost of a dead dog possessed by a fallen cop leads a young child on a quest for revenge. It is a very strange film.

Among the accessory cast of “Santa With Muscles” are Clint Howard, who is the brother of famed director Ron Howard (and a stalwart B-movie character actor in his own right). He has featured in movies such as “The Ice Cream Man” and “Evilspeak”, not to mention a veritable drove of Uwe Boll movies. Also appearing is Garret Morris, best known as an inaugural cast member of NBC’s beloved comedy sketch program Saturday Night Live.

santamuscles6The climax of “Santa With Muscles” sees Hulk Hogan doing battle with Ed Begley Jr (clad, as always, in a hazmat suit) in an expansive cave below the orphanage. It is revealed that the building sits atop a mine filled with valuable explosive crystals, which is why Begley had been trying to expel the orphans. It is also inexplicably revealed that both men were raised in the orphanage as children, and at one point were best friends. In light of these bizarre and lazy revelations, the two men have a sword fight with the highly explosive crystals, which somehow doesn’t blow them both up into tiny meat chunks. The aftermath of the battle does ultimately see the orphanage explode, after which Thorne opens his mansion up as a new location for the children, completing his redemption.

On to the plotopsy of the film: what led to the failure of “Santa With Muscles”?

First off, it is just too damn cartoon-y. The villains have ridiculous unexplained superpowers, and chew their way through scenery throughout the film. Ed Begley Jr’s lead villain is played as such an over the top germophobe that the trees in front of his house are shown covered in plastic. That kind of thinking makes my brain want to implode.

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Just random shrubs covered in plastic
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Until the end of the movie, Ed Begley Jr’s character refuses to leave the mansion, instead appearing via a TV to outsiders.

Of course, centering a movie around Hulk Hogan isn’t such a great idea either. He may be a good showman, but he is a horrendous actor. Watching him stumble through lines in this movie is embarrassing, particularly during an interview sequence where he is supposed to be acting nervous. It takes an unfathomable void of talent to not be able to appear nervous and confused. Last but certainly not least, this script is absolutely abysmal. The plot is baffling and poorly paced,  and the dialogue is awkward and stilted throughout the film. I am kind of curious what the original draft looked like, and how it managed to be mutated into the state that it ended up in.

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I think a toddler designed the title card

All in all, I absolutely recommend giving Santa With Muscles a watch if you can find a copy of it. It is definitely a movie you have to see to believe, and it may be the worst entry in Hulk Hogan’s abysmal filmography. The pacing slows down significantly here and there, but there are generally enough confusing and outlandish moments to keep your eyebrows cocked and your jaw on the floor through the entire run time.
That’s all for today’s (Plot)opsy Podcast here at the Misan[trope]y Movie Blog! I recommend checking out the rest of the “15 Days of Bad Christmas Movies”. Here’s what you will find this week:

Stinker Madness Podcast
The He-Man She-Ra Xmas Special

If We Made It Podcast
Silent Night Deadly Night 2

Dark Corners of This Sick World
Elves

JT Movie Podcast
Black Christmas (2006)

So, make sure to check in with all of those good folks as part of the “15 Days of Bad Christmas Movies”! Also, make sure to check back here next week for the next (Plot)opsy Podcast on the infamous 1959 Mexican Christmas movie: “Santa Claus”

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