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  Body Slam Rock 'n' Wrestle
Year: 1986
Director: Hal Needham
Stars: Dirk Benedict, Tanya Roberts, Roddy Piper, Lou Albano, Barry Gordon, Charles Nelson Reilly, Billy Barty, John Astin, Sam Fatu, Dani Janssen, Sydney Lassick, John Fujioka, Afa Anoai, Sika Anoai, Kellie Martin, Sione Vailahi, Dennis Fimple, Fred Blassie
Genre: Comedy, ActionBuy from Amazon
Rating:  4 (from 1 vote)
Review: M. Harry Smilac (Dirk Benedict) is a manager in the entertainments industry who is trying to resist falling on hard times now that his business is drying up, and frequent indignities such as having his expensive sports car repossessed just as he's parked it outside the office block of his lawyer Sheldon (Barry Gordon) are what he has to put up with as he waits for the next opportunity to get himself back on his feet. Once inside and consulting with Sheldon, Harry hears his offer of arranging a showbiz event for a politician on the campaign trail and it sounds awful, not what he is interested in at all, but in his heart of hearts he knows he'll have to take it to see off his debts. How about a change of pace, then?

How about a move into a different brand of entertainment such as, you've guessed it from the title, professional wrestling? While the sport was on the wane in Britain around this point in time, in the United States its mixture of over the top spectacle, larger than life personalities and relentless burly men hitting one another action ensured it was an ever-growing success, and the director of Body Slam, Hal Needham, was keen to cash in. Unfortunately, what was plain to see was that while the sport was making large profits, not many of them filtered down to this, something of a step down for a man who had helmed one of the most successful movies of the nineteen-seventies with Smokey and the Bandit.

This item contained the same combination of man's man humour and "goofing off", but with far less of the spectacle angle that might have sold it to anyone other than those who were fans of wrestling already and wishing to see some of the celebrities of the activity in acting roles, which would appear to have been the point. To increase the appeal, the script had it that Harry was also a music promoter and worked in many appearances by a band called Kick, formerly Kicks, who would play at the events before the wrestlers showed up, an irresistible show according to this, especially when that music is patriotic hair metal (possibly taking some kind of cue from the Rocky sequels).

Whatever, the notion of two great tastes tasting great together was rife in the presentation, but it would seem Needham was as much, if not more, interested in the backstage shenanigans than he was in the actual matches. This led much of Body Slam to follow Benedict, fresh off his hit role in action series The A-Team, as he played out various hacky set-ups that if they were not drenched with in-jokes then they assuredly felt that way, containing a love/hate relationship with the glitzy sphere of entertainment meshing world weary cynicism with a genuine delight when their harebrained schemes actually work out. This left the target audience apparently both the followers of wrestling and a bunch of agents, movers and shakers behind the scenes who you can imagine meeting up in a corner of a bar to reminisce.

That corner probably has signed photographs of celebrities on the walls too. It was telling the biggest names Needham could attract were on the level of Tanya Roberts (as Candace, the love interest for Dirk), John Astin (as a dodgy used car dealer Harry gets one over on) or Billy Barty (as a rival promoter with a jarringly foul mouth for what you assume was for family audiences), and also that the wrestlers he recruited were no actors. There was an exception, and if the director had seen sense he would have given him the lead role: "Rowdy" Roddy Piper, one of the best antagonists the profession ever had by all accounts, may not have been polished, but here he did show off the charisma his starring part in John Carpenter's They Live truly capitalised on. In this he played Quick Rick Roberts, a good guy who Harry signs up first, and his scenes are the best in the movie. Needham did crowbar in some car destruction, his forte, but the crucial wrestling sequences had very little atmosphere; with a more generous budget, it could have lived up to its ambitions. Music by John D'Andrea and Michael Lloyd.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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