Benjamin is a former volunteer DJ at his local hospital radio station. He has been reviewing films online since 2004.
What's the Big Deal?
Santa With Muscles is a festive family comedy film released in 1996 and was directed by B-movie specialist John Murlowski. The film stars wrestling legend Hulk Hogan as an amnesiac millionaire who thinks he's the real Santa and finds himself attempting to save an orphanage from an evil scientist. The film also stars Don Stark, Ed Begley Jr, Robin Curtis and a young Mila Kunis. The film was pulled from US theatres after just two weeks, leaving it with total domestic earnings of just $220'198. The film has since appeared on numerous lists of the worst Christmas films in history and had been a stalwart on IMDb's Worst 100 Films until they recently changed the criteria to feature more commonly viewed pictures and less obscure ones like this.
What's it About?
Blake Thorn is a successful businessman selling fitness equipment and bodybuilding supplements, in spite of having a supreme arrogance and lousy attitude. After a paintball game gets out of hand, Blake is forced to run from the police and hides in a nearby mall. Grabbing a Santa Claus costume attempting to disguise himself, he falls down a laundry chute and bangs his head which gives him amnesia. Worse yet, he is found by department store elf Lenny who takes Blake to the mall's grotto, making Blake believe that he might be the actual Santa.
Accompanied by Lenny after he realises his confusion, Blake finds himself at a nearby orphanage where orphan Elizabeth recently wrote to Santa about the alarming presence of evil scientist Ebner Frost and his goons. Frost has been attempting to gain control of the orphanage and other properties in the area for reasons unknown and after being won over by Elizabeth's belief in him as the real Santa, Blake begins to take the fight to Frost and his assorted henchmen...
What's to Like?
I will be the first to admit that I am certainly not the target audience for this disappointingly banal effort but unless you are a young boy under the age of six in the mid-90s (and only in the mid-90s), I cannot fathom who Santa With Muscles is actually for. Hogan's film career hasn't exactly been a long list of highlights - No Holds Barred, Mr Nanny and of course 3 Ninjas: High Noon At Mega Mountain - but even among such dishonoured company, this film stands out. Fans of the Hulkster will know what to expect from this family-friendly comedy - plenty of slapstick, a smidge of toned-down violence, comedic sound effects and a ridiculous screenplay.
Trying to find anything about this film I liked to a bit like trying to enjoy Christmas after you've been burgled. Hulk's pantomime-style performance is about as much as you'd expect from this joyless movie and is certainly no better than any of the supporting cast. Begley Jr - more famous these days for his environmental activism than his acting career - has never looked more disinterested in a project, so much so that I almost felt sorry for him. I don't know how much the film's budget was but it doesn't look much more than the pittance it made at the box office.
- One of the film's executive producers was Jordan Belfort, the stockbroker who would later plead guilty to fraud and money laundering charges as well as stock-market manipulation. He is also the subject of the film The Wolf Of Wall Street, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, which was based on his autobiography.
- The original author of the screenplay sued the film-makers to have their name removed after they made so many changes to the original draft, it looked nothing like their work.
- The film also features an appearance from Hulk Hogan's long-time friend Brutus "The Barber" Beefcake under his real name Ed Leslie. He often pops up in projects involving Hogan including McCinsey's Island and The Ultimate Weapon.
What's Not to Like?
By now, you've probably figured out that Santa With Muscles is not worth interrupting your day for. From the lack of charm and humour from the cast, the idiotic narrative and the overall wrath that someone somewhere felt this movie was entertaining, the film offers nothing in terms of comedy, action or feel-good moments. By far and away the most interesting aspect of this film is watching a young Kunis acting alongside the Hulkster (and giving a better account of herself), despite only being about twelve at the time. "I was too young to fully understand the importance of working with Hulk Hogan. I just thought he was this huge man" she later admitted in an interview with GQ magazine.
The screenplay is beyond stupid, taking its paper-thin premise to beyond breaking point while never stopping to explain why all this goofy nonsense is taking place. You can't even cheer for the Hulk when he inevitably saves the day because he's basically a deeply unlikeable moron suffering from a serious head injury (not that you'd get that from Hogan's performance) instead of an actual good guy. Aside from the costume, there is little mention of Christmas other than a few half-hearted puns - frankly, the weather looks far too good for it to be filmed in winter. This isn't just bad for Christmas movies but a slap in the face for Hollywood in general. If I happen to stumble across any other of Murlowski's movies in my lifetime, it will still be too soon.
Should I Watch It?
If you still don't know then you're probably the right intellectual level to appreciate Santa With Muscles as witless festive entertainment. The film is a car-crash of poor ideas, a disinterested cast and an uninspired director. Even the soundtrack sucks. This film is so bad, it's what the actual Santa gives to children who haven't been good this year.
Great For: Settling the argument about whether Hogan is a better actor or wrestler, Hogan's bank account, Hogan's ego
Not So Great For: Christmas, Easter, Halloween, Labor Day... actually, any day or night of the year
What else should I watch?
Honestly, watching a snowman lovingly built by you and your young children slowly melt into a depressing mockery of your hard work is more fun than this film. In terms of movies, there are countless flicks to choose from to entertain your clan over the holidays. From the reckless abandon of Home Alone, the life-affirming joy of It's A Wonderful Life or even the syrupy dive into a pool of rom-com cliché that is Love Actually, any of these films will be more enjoyable or even professional than Santa With Muscles.
As for the man born Terry Gene Bollea, is there any film he's appeared in that is actually worth watching? Well, he made his film debut in Rocky III (alongside another Eighties icon, Mr T who would be Hulk's tag-team partner at the original Wrestlemania) but it would all go downhill worryingly quickly with disastrous appearances in guff like Suburban Commando, a brief cameo in Gremlins 2: The New Batch and the TV movie Assault On Devil's Island (also known as Shadow Warriors) which is one of the most laughable action films I've ever seen. It makes the cringeworthy sex-tape at the centre of his lawsuit with website Gawker look like Gone With The Wind.
Ed Begley Jr
Jonathan Bond, Fred Mata & Dorrie Krum Raymond
Release Date (US)
8th November, 1996
Comedy, Family, Festive
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2018 Benjamin Cox
Benjamin Cox (author) from Norfolk, UK on December 15, 2018:
I shall be reviewing the original 'Miracle On 34th Street' shortly so stay tuned.
Pat Mills from East Chicago, Indiana on December 11, 2018:
You'll probably want to avoid these films as well, if you haven't seen them already. Four Christmases and Dr. Seuss' How The Grinch Stole Christmas (from Ron Howard) are mainstream films virtually devoid of any Christmas cheer. Santa Claus Conquers The Martians is laughably bad, while the Mexican Santa Claus movie from 1959 virtually rewrites the Santa legend in a jaw-droppingly bad way. Then there's the obscure Santa And The Ice Cream Bunny, which puts a Thumbelina feature in between the beginning and end of this mess of a movie, thus giving viewers two awful movies in one. Santa With Muscles sounds like a perfect fit with this list.
Other holiday movies that are much more preferable also include the original Miracle On 34th Street and A Christmas Story.