Santa With Muscles

Director: John Murlowski  
Hulk Hogan, Ed Begley Jr., Don Stark

I grew up in a town that would probably be considered small by people, at least by people who live in North America. It was far away from the nearest major urban center, so I didn't have an extremely big choice of entertainment to choose from whenever I was bored. But I knew that I was destined for big things, like being in a privileged position to tell people about great (and not so great) unknown movies. Since I knew I was heading for greatness, I prepared myself by looking for activities that would improve me as a person, whether they were academic in nature or simply entertainment. There was one kind of entertainment that I loathed from the start, however, and that was professional wrestling. To me, anyone who watched the sport was someone I didn't want anything to do with. What bothered me most about wrestling was how fake it was. The wrestlers themselves were obviously acting in a way that gave them personalities much different than their real selves. And I certainly had issues with the wrestling bouts themselves, with unbelievable sights like supposedly severely injured wrestlers suddenly getting a second wind of sorts and magically beating up the opponent that had severely beaten them seconds before. It was even worse with what I saw with ladies' wrestling - it was so fake that even the guests on Jerry Springer come across as real drama compared to what I saw there. Still, I have to admit that in recent years I have developed a kind of grudging respect for wrestlers. Though the bouts and their outcomes may be planned in advance, I've learned that wrestlers still go through a great deal of physical punishment as they do their stuff. And they do this week after week, constantly risking harm to themselves and those they wrestle.

It takes a special breed to be a wrestler. I once heard a story about a certain celebrity who wasn't a wrestler but fought a bout as a publicity stunt, and the next morning he couldn't even get out of bed. If you do manage to become a successful wrestler, the world can be your oyster. And once you have that power, it may be inevitable that you start to wonder if you can conquer certain other fields as well. One of those new fields that some wrestlers have decided to tackle is the field of acting. It's been happening more in recent years, maybe due in part that the audience for wrestling has been declining in recent years as well - perhaps wrestlers feel they should learn a new craft just in case. Anyway, several wrestlers have found fame working in the movie industry. The most successful wrestler to make a leap to acting is Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, with hit movies like Fast Five and Get Smart. Other wrestlers who have tried acting include John Cena (The Marine) and Kane (See No Evil) Then there is Hulk Hogan. He has made plenty of movies while maintaining his wrestling career, but his film choices have for the most part been different than what other wrestlers have chosen when entering films. Most of his feature films have been aimed at family audiences, such as Mr. Nanny and Suburban Commando. I think there are two main reasons why Hogan has chosen so many projects aimed at families. The first is that Hogan has long had a large fanbase made of children, so making movies aimed at them seems natural. But I think another reason is that, at least to me, Hogan looks goofy. With his balding head, tall stature, and other physical attributes, it's hard to take him seriously. Children might not notice this, but I think many adults would laugh at the sight of Hogan trying to act seriously.

Anyway, Hogan's family films are different from other wrestlers' films in one aspect: They are awful. I've seen most of them, with Secret Agent Club possibly being the very worst. After I saw that particular Hogan movie, I swore off watching any more cinematic efforts he might make, Santa With Muscleseven if I had the opportunity to watch them for free. So you are probably wondering why I decided to review the Hogan-starring family movie Santa With Muscles. Several reasons, actually. It was suggested by a reader for one thing. Another reason was that for the past few years I have been reviewing an unknown movie with a Christmas theme around this time of year. But what really got me interested was that it was long ago voted as one of the 100 worst movies ever by patrons of the Internet Movie Database, while Titanic: The Animated Movie took quite longer to make the list. My intrigue about this ultimately pushed me to rent this movie and review it. The plot: In the desert community of Lakeville, there are two millionaires, one of them being a fellow named Blake (Hogan). Blake is a somewhat selfish fellow who, when not at work promoting his line of health food products, keeps in shape by engaging in weapon or hand to hand combat with his staff. A few days before Christmas, Blake recklessly speeds through town while wildly firing paintball guns around, which results in the law (Clint Howard, Ticks) pursuing him. Blake flees into the local shopping mall and in a back room dons a Santa Claus costume to shake off the heat. While hiding from the cops in the mall, Blake accidently hits his head, and when he wakes up he is suffering from amnesia. Lenny (Stark, That '70s Show) a mall employee who subsequently finds the confused Blake, decides to deceive Blake for his own selfish reasons and convinces Blake that he is Santa Claus.

Bewildered, Blake eventually accepts this and does his best to act the part for the mall's Santa exhibit. But he still remembers his combat abilities, which he uses to beat up in front of several dozen mall patrons two robbers who attempt to steal charity money for the town's orphanage. Delivering the money to the orphanage, he quickly befriends the orphanage's staff (including Garrett Morris of Saturday Night Live) and the orphans. But he soon learns the orphanage is in danger from the town's other millionaire, one Ebner Frost (Begley, Get Crazy), who is buying up all the town's property for mysterious reasons, and has his eye on the orphanage. And if it means engaging in illegal activity to get his hands on the orphanage property, so be it. Okay, I think by now you have a good idea of the set-up of Santa With Muscles. And with that in mind, I think that there's a good chance you have several questions in your mind with this set-up. If not, I'll share some of the questions I had with this set-up. (1) Are there really orphanages still running in this day and age, at least in North America? (2) While I can accept that it's possible for an amnesia victim to not know who he is (I've heard many actual reports of this happening over the years), would a full grown amnesia victim really not know that Santa Claus does not actually exist? (3) Wouldn't a victim of amnesia, even after being told who he supposedly is, seek out the nearest hospital for immediate treatment? (4) Would even the greediest land-grabbing millionaire risk the inevitable and greatly negative publicity that would come from trying to close an orphanage down during the Christmas season?

It's not just the set-up of Santa With Muscles that I had questions with, questions I think even some kids watching might have. As the movie progressed, I had plenty of more questions forming in my mind. Some of these questions include (5) Why does nobody in town, even Blake, inform the press or the cops about the strong-arm techniques Ebner Frost is using in order to take over the town? (6) What kind of orphanage would be taking care of just three orphan children? (7) Are small town police officers in the United States really issued bazookas? (8) If there was a mysterious locked vault in the basement of an orphanage, would the adults running the orphanage really done nothing in the way of opening it for several decades? (9) How did Lenny know Blake's cell phone number? (I don't think any millionaire would have their number be listed.) More questions than those came to mind while watching this movie, but I think by now you get the idea that the movie's three screenwriters weren't exactly trying for credibility here. My guess is that since they thought the prime audience for this movie would be children, that just about anything that they wrote would be accepted by the mind of a child. Maybe there are some kids (younger kids at least) who might not question most or even all of what happens in the movie. But even if I had a very small child, I wouldn't want them to see this movie. Not just because there are better and smarter family films out there, but because of some of the content in this movie. For example, some of the hand-to-hand combat the character of Blake engages in come across not only as quite violent, but has the attitude that this kind of behavior is acceptable. Other bad behavior that is treated humorously and/or acceptable ranges from Lenny stealing Blake's wallet and trying several times to use his ATM card to child slavery.

It probably comes as no surprise that Hogan is pretty bad playing the ersatz Santa Claus. The rotten and questionable screenplay doesn't give him that much to work with, granted, but at least he could have shown some effort and sparkle. But about all he brings to the role is a bad-looking toupee placed on his head. He shows no effort in showing various emotions; even when his character is supposed to be shouting or showing great emotion, his tone of voice always sounds the same as his quieter moments. As for the other actors, while the child actors show a little charm and spark, the adult actors frankly look embarrassed, delivering their lines with great haste in an apparent attempt to get the ordeal over with quickly. It's not just with the actors that director John Murlowski was apparently hopeless with. The movie doesn't have a lot of feeling of jovality and holiday spirit, though it sure didn't help that he was apparently forced to shoot a Christmas movie in the southern California area, where there's no snow. There are several moments where important linking and/or informative scenes appear to be missing, including one moment where it suddenly jumps from three days before Christmas to one day before the holiday. The only good moment he manages to pull off is a special effects sequence in the movie's final few minutes, which looks pretty good for a movie with a real low budget. Make no mistake: Santa With Muscles is a bad movie. But does it deserve to be in the IMDb's 100 worst films list? Actually, I don't think so. Yes, it is a bad movie, but it's not aggressive in its badness such as movies like Titanic: The Animated Movie. It's merely dopey and dumb, not strident. Still, if you are looking for a cinematic piece of coal to put in someone's stocking, this movie would be a good choice.

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See also: Blizzard, Secret Agent Club, Ziggy's Gift