Body Slam (1986)

Director: Hal Needham
Plot: In the film that dragged the shotgun marriage of rock and wrestling onto the big screen in the most perfunctory manner imaginable, sentient Ken Doll Dirk Benedict, truly the Bradley Cooper of the ’80s, plays a smiling man with all the accoutrements of professional ambition in the Reagan-era: blindingly slick hair, a cigar to chomp at opportune moments, a football-sized portable telephone (fancy!) and a never-ending line of slick patter. 

When Benedict’s heat in the music industry cools, he stumbles into a new sideline when he poaches wrestler Roddy Piper from apoplectic manager Captain Lou Albano. Albano, playing himself alongside a fair number of other real-life wrestling luminaries, dominates the local wrestling scene, so Benedict is forced to look for new venues for his acts to play. In a fit of inspiration, Benedict decides to cross-pollinate sub-mediocrity by pairing the forgettable pop-rock sounds of the band Kicks with the lazily choreographed, indifferently executed grappling action of Benedict’s stable of steroid abusers. 

The wrestling milieu gives the film what little excuse it needs to pad its running time with sequences indistinguishable from the kind of filler you’d find on World Wrestling Federation matches at the time: fights, shouting matches, the whole nine.  This clip occupies some sad netherworld between the arch-theatricality of WWF and conventional bad film acting. Wrestling acting is like porn acting: It doesn’t have to be good, merely functional. It only has to get the action from one place to another. Even by those standards, the acting here fails. 

Benedict intermittently chomps his cigar in a slightly less aggressive fashion to convey his character’s spiritual growth. At first it was all about money, but Benedict ultimately wants to do the right thing, so when the tag-team duo he manages ends up climactically winning the championship, he uses his cut of the winnings to pay back Tanya Roberts, a love interest so arbitrary she could be forgiven for forgetting that she even appeared in the film. Benedict’s fighters emerge victorious and the sacred marriage of rock and wrestling is officially and climactically consummated. 

Key scenes:

After being assured he doesn’t play any of that “new wave” crap, Benedict agrees to handle Piper without realizing that he’s dealing with a wrestler rather than a musician. For a wheeler-dealer, Benedict cuts a mighty gullible figure. 

Is it possible to make a wrestling movie without an appearance from Charles Nelson Reilly as the host of a popular wrestling talk show? Of course it is. But why would anybody want to? Here, Benedict performs a delicate verbal dance where he tries to promote himself and his wrestlers without calling undue attention to the unfortunately size-conscious Billy Barty’s height or unnecessarily antagonizing the eternally excitable Albano. 

At a fundraiser for a politician so unpopular the host for his event is heckled, Benedict disappoints a rapt crowd that is expecting performances from “Frank”, “Barbra” and “Julio” but are instead treated to a performance by the band Kicks. (Benedict represents them, you know!) 

Can easily be distinguished by: It is the only place to see Freddie Blassie awkwardly attempting to dance to the music of Kicks. 

Sign that it was made in 1986: The Captain Lou Albano-fueled rock-wrestling movement dates this very precisely as a product of the mid-’80s. Just about the only place the rock/wrestling paradigm persists is in the iconography and mythology of the wrestling-obsessed Insane Clown Posse

Timeless message: When a smiling, big-talking show-business smoothie promises to have “Frank” and “Barbra” and “Julio” play your political fundraiser, make sure they’re referencing the iconic musicians synonymous with those first names and not members of the band Kicks. 

Memorable quotes: Nothing captures the film’s sensibility better than a synth-pop theme song with lyrics like, “Body Slam/Take me to the limit if you can!” 

Filed Under: Film

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