Directed by Hal Needham
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 anamorphic
Running Time: 92 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo English
MSRP: $ 19.98
Release Date: March 29, 2011
Review Date: April 25, 2011
With the overwhelming success that professional wrestling has enjoyed for the last few decades, it’s surprising that no one has been enterprising enough to capitalize on it with a movie. There have been some attempts: Henry Winkler’s The One and Only, David Arquette and Scott Caan in Ready to Rumble, even Sylvester Stallone directing and starring in Paradise Alley (though he didn’t do the wrestling). None of them were successful. Neither was Hal Needham’s Body Slam, and it’s perhaps the weakest and lamest of all the attempts to spotlight professional wrestling in the movies. Perhaps it’s because the sport is so much of a performance art to begin with that the movies make it seem smaller and less impressive than the real thing. Nevertheless, Body Slam is a bust.
Small-time music agent Harry Smilac (Dirk Benedict) is constantly in debt because he’s having trouble booking his low wattage rock acts, but an accidental meeting with a couple of top-notch wrestlers (Roddy Piper, Sam Fatu) who are rebelling against their unfair treatment by kingpin wrestling promoter Captain Lou Murano (Lou Albano) installs Harry as their new manager. Because Lou controls all of the big time arenas around the country, he can effectively freeze out his two rebels and keep them from competing against his stable of wrestling stars. But Harry gets a bright idea of combining his two kinds of clients and begins promoting Rock ‘n Wrestling in smaller arenas around the country where it catches on like wildfire. Smelling a big money windfall, Lou agrees to giving his old clients a match with his champions, but their contracts will be on the line.
For a movie that wants to mix wrestling, comedy, and music, the film fails excruciatingly in at least two of the three areas. The comedy is agonizingly awful (feisty manager Billy Barty spends the movie shouting “faggot” at the film’s star; the slapstick is hideously staged as twin Samoans demolish several fancy cars; Dirk Benedict appears in drag for an extended sequence), and the wrestling couldn’t be more routinely performed and filmed. Hal Needham may have been a first-rate stunt man and directed a few Burt Reynolds movies somewhat competently, but his staging and filming of the wrestling moves here make old basic cable coverage of the sport look slick and well shot, and he never builds any kind of momentum or tension to the various matches that are staged within the film. Most of the music is weak, too, but two tunes stand out. The title song is catchy though it’s done to a disco beat making it at least six or seven years behind the times when the movie was first released. Harry’s band KICK sings “The American Way” with something approaching a real rock ‘n roll vibe that makes it the film’s one shining moment.
Dirk Benedict must have made this during one of his hiatuses during the run of The A-Team, but it was a waste of his time. With no help from script (by Shel Lytton and Steve Burkow) or director, he is at sea floundering around and trying anything to generate a few laughs. At least his line readings are professional, and he gives it his best shot. Tanya Roberts, who looks stunning throughout but especially in our first glimpse of her in a very severely cut swimsuit, is hopeless in the film as Benedict’s love interest. There’s no demonstrative chemistry with him at all, and the film doesn’t even bother with a final clinch for its two stars. Lou Albano plays his familiar bad guy manager here only with a slight name change. Roddy Piper was probably at his height as a wrestling star when the film was made, and he certainly has no problem with the lines or ring business (and he probably enjoyed playing the good guy rather than a ring villain as he was for so much of his career), but he’s wasted here despite showing decent acting chops. And speaking of wasted, Billy Barty, Charles Nelson Reilly (an embarrassing role as a wrestling talk show host), Barry Gordon, and John Astin, all fine actors when given decent material, round out the star cast in parts I’m sure they wanted to forget they ever took. Luckily, the film was such a flop that very few people saw them in it. Wrestling celebrities of the time like Ric Flair, Freddie Blassie, and Bruno Sammartino also make quick cameo appearances.
The film has been framed at its theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is anamorphically enhanced for widescreen televisions. The opening reel or two seems a bit softer than most of the rest of the transfer, and color also seems a bit better as the film runs. Flesh tones look natural enough, but black levels are only fair at best. The film has been divided into chapters every ten minutes so there are 10 chapters present.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound mix is stronger than one might expect for such a low budget film. Crowd noises during the wrestling matches and the performed songs by KICK and others have a nice amount of spread through the soundstage. Dialogue has been adequately recorded though ADR is very noticeable when it occurs.
The made-on-demand disc offers a theatrical trailer presented in 4:3 and running 2 ¼ minutes.
1.5/5 (not an average)
In the world of wrestling comedies, Body Slam occupies the lowest rung on the ladder, a cheap-looking and unfunny mix of music and muscle that fails in almost every conceivable way. The made-on-demand disc, however, puts the film out there for those who may have a soft spot in their hearts for it.