A few months back, The Rambler had me take my first look at GRUNT! The Wrestling Movie from 1985 and share my thoughts on that gritty, grappling mockumentary in this review. Spoilers, it wasn’t my favorite piece of attempted comedy.
So when I was booked for a rematch with obscure cult cinema focused on the squared circle, this time in the form of Body Slam from 1986, it took a little more bribery. The promise of few old comics and some vintage trading cards can make a man do some crazy things, but I’m happy to report that the experience of watching Body Slam was a real hoot.
The film stars TV pretty boy Dirk Benedict who kids of the 80’s will remember most from his roles as Starbuck on Battlestar Galactica or Face Man on the A-Team, who in this story plays M. Harry Smilac a sleazy, but affable con-man who finds himself managing a wrestling tag team on the rise. Their partnership results in a musical money-making innovation to the business that catapults them to superstardom by the film’s end.
Before we get deep into my thoughts on the film, I thought it would be worth citing a few bits of history about the making of Body Slam.
During a YouTube interview on the In Your Head podcast, Dirk Benedict stated that he really enjoyed the making of Body Slam and was sad that it never got a theatrical release. Directed by Hal Needham who gained fame by helming films like Smokey and The Bandit, Cannonball Run and the BMX biking cult classic, RAD, the film’s producers were upset by the constant improvisation of lines on the set by Benedict and Needham, which doomed the film to VHS shelves after they wrapped shooting.
This is another movie I remember passing by on the video store shelves, since there was no way my parents were going to let me rent a film with such a scandalous cover. SPOILER: There is no nudity during the run time of Body Slam, it’s a purely PG affair (at least the cut I watched). Ironically enough, there is a bit of flashing distraction by a female Valet in GRUNT! The Wrestling Movie, so it’s almost as if the marketing people watched the wrong movie as they went to work on a cover.
So what is Body Slam really about? Ding-Ding, that’s the bell, now let’s get ready to rumble!
Truth be told, Body Slam is about 25% wrestling and 75% con-man comedy. But you know what? It’s actually funny! Dirk Bendict as Harry Smilac has a lot of great gags as he grifts his way through life. For example, Harry is constantly charming his way into borrowing fancy cars throughout the film, but due to owing a large sum of money to Korean loan shark named Mr. Kim, the cars are constantly being ripped apart by 2 gigantic Samoan enforcers.
Now the portrayal of Mr. Kim is a bit problematic in this day and age, as he speaks with a very stereotypical Asian accent, which Harry mocks in several scenes. Imagine Toht from Raiders of the Lost Ark mixed with Mr. Miyagi from The Karate Kid and you’ve got your Mr. Kim. On the other hand, you don’t often see an Asian actor playing such a street level heavy, so I guess avoiding the Italian mobster cliche was a bit novel.
Getting back to Smilac, Benedict is incredibly charming in the role, constantly spouting his catch phrase, “Trust Me” before getting his cohorts deeper into trouble. In this case it’s a tag team managed by Captain Lou Albano (or in this case Murano), consisting of WWF Superstars “Rowdy” Roddy Piper and Tama from The Islanders.
After a misunderstanding where Smilac thinks Piper aka Quick Rick Roberts is part of a musical act, the greedy opportunist agrees to manage the two babyfaces and gets pulled into the wild world of professional wrestling.
This causes Harry to run afoul of Captain Lou, who sends his tag team terrors, The Canibals out to hassle his crew. These two play like a couple of knuckleheads, but amp up their psychotic nature with some weird physical ticks. In their first encounter against Rick and Tonga they actually beat the heroes with chains and cause them to “get color”, which I was not expecting from this tame little picture.
It’s at this point that I must mention the most disappointing part of the film for me. Roddy Piper is one of the most entertaining heel wrestlers of all time and though he has had great runs as a babyface as well, in this role as the good guy, he lacks any charisma whatsoever. Rick’s only characteristic is his caring for his younger sister, Missy as portrayed by Kellie Martin and otherwise he’s just there to take some punches from the bad guys.
Luckily, Rick Roberts is not the focus of the film, rather it’s Harry’s relationship with another Roberts that takes up a great portion of the film. I know Tanya Roberts mostly from her role as the ditzy housewife, Midge on That 70’s Show, but before that she was a Bond girl, rocked a loin cloth in Sheena and even joined forces with The Beastmaster. In Body Slam she’s mostly eye candy, but also is the catalyst for Mr. Smilac to start taking himself more seriously as a human being.
The two meet thanks to a gig planning a fundraising event for a Senator that Harry is drafted into by his buddy, Sheldon played by Barry Gordon. You may not know Gordon’s face, but you definitely know his voice as he famously played Donatello on the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon for more than 10 years. It was fun to see the man doing a bit of acting outside of the half-shell, though his impact in the story is minimal.
Another notable cameo comes in the form of Billy Barty from Masters of the Universe, Willow, UHF and dozens of other films as wrestling manager, Tim McClusky, who doesn’t like Smilac butting in on his territory. There are many short jokes at his expense, but he later takes on the role of commentator and has some funny moments on the mic.
Taking real life inspiration from Cindy Lauper’s time managing female wrestler, Wendi Richter against the Fabulous Moolah which led to the MTV airing heavily promoted wrestling matches on their network, Body Slam, really should have been called Rock N’ Wrestling. Unfortunately that name was already taken by the WWF Saturday morning cartoon show.
You see Smilac starts booking his other client, a band called Kick to play during wrestling matches and soon a new phenomenon in live entertainment is born. Suddenly Harry’s Rock and Wrestling shows are in demand as they travel the country in a tour bus, putting on these slam and jam concerts. So how is the music?
Kick is a straight ahead 80s heavy metal band with no stand-out characteristic other than having a female drummer. That being said, they have some catchy tunes like “Push”, “Rock and Roll Heart” and my personal favorite, “American Way”. They even get a chance to play in the ring before the film’s final match where Captain Lou has bet the championship as well as the contract of his star tag team, against Quick Rick and Tonga Tom.
The finale is also notable in that we get cameos from actual wrestlers like “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair, Bruno Sammartino, “Classy” Freddie Blassie and even Sheik Adnan Al Kaissie (not the Iron one who will humble you.) Of course our heroes win and all is well with the world.
So what’s the judge’s decision on Body Slam? Let’s put it this way, this movie would fit nicely into the USA Up All Night block of programming. The humor is cheesy, the girls are pretty and there’s a rebel spirit about it that keeps you on the side of our heroes who are shaking up the establishment. Set up next to Revenge Of The Nerds 2 or Zapped Again, it’s a fine way to waste away 90 minute