It was 1986. The World Wrestling Federation had emerged as a household name with its personalities crossing over into mainstream music and television. Hulk Hogan and Captain Lou Albano seemed to be at the center of this movement. Hogan’s larger-than-life persona and Albano’s cameos in several of Cyndi Lauper’s music videos laid the groundwork for an animated series (“Rock n’ Wrestling”), which gave the WWF more exposure as family entertainment, as opposed to the gritty, working-class spectacle that it was perceived as throughout the previous decades.
Apparently, Hollywood caught wind of this new business opportunity when Hemdale Film and Musifilm Productions backed Hal Needham’s “Body Slam.” “Body Slam” is the story of M. Harry Smilac (Dirk Benedict of “The A-Team”), a deadbeat music manager who stumbles into the world of professional wrestling, in turn reviving the careers of two pro wrestlers and the mediocre band he manages.
The marriage of rock and wrestling is where the parallels between the movie and WWF’s ascent end. While WWF mastermind Vince McMahon focused on reaching the entire country with his product, “Body Slam” focuses more on professional wrestling’s territory system, where wrestling promoters would lay claim to different regions of the country with ultimate control over shows and the performers therein.
In the film, Captain Lou Morano (Captain Lou Albano) controls pro wrestling in southern California. And when “Quick” Rick Roberts (“Rowdy” Roddy Piper) decides to break away from Morano’s empire, Smilac unwittingly becomes a marked man for compromising Morano’s profit.
Naturally, a conflict of this nature comes to blows. But what’s interesting about this movie, in retrospect, is that it pretends that the combat in the ring is real as well. So when Morano’s goons, The Cannibals, put Roberts and his partner Tonga Tom (Sam Fatu) in the hospital, it is neither fake nor accidental.
As comical as that sounds (what with how completely exposed professional wrestling has become since the 90s) grounding the tension between wrestlers in an unscripted reality is the only way that a story like this can be told. Today’s conventional wisdom tells us that even wrestlers who don’t get along in real life agree to work together to put on a good show for the fans while trying not to injure the one another. The mutual respect between these performers forces them to recognize that injuries mean less food on their table, and making that happen is something you just don’t do to another performer.”Body Slam” ignores that reality and instead plays to the innocent sensibilities of people who believe the best way for enemies to settle their differences is to wear tights and not hitting each other hard enough to leave bruises or swelling.
Now that the ideal context has been explained for the movie, allow me to let you know that it’s still not great. There are plenty of funny moments that get credit for effort, but don’t mistake this review as an endorsement for a lost classic. In fact, unless you are a fan of professional wrestling who would enjoy the novelty of seeing wrestlers in an 80s movie alongside the original Faceman, you’d probably have no business watching “Body Slam.” But if one had to choose a Marz Daily Media-reviewed Roddy Piper movie to watch, it certainly beats the hell out of “Hell Comes to Frogtown.”