When you’re an 11 year old diehard wrestling nut in the midst of not only Hulkamania but Macho Madness, even a Dirk Benedict movie sounds exciting.
As a kid I stumbled upon Body Slam several times on cable, and I remembered it fondly. Now that I’ve seen it again… what did I ever see in this thing? It couldn’t have been the plot, the characters, the witless dialogue, the racial stereotyping, the horrid hair band… did it all boil down to the fact that wrestling was involved? Probably. When you’re an 11 year old diehard wrestling nut in the midst of not only Hulkamania but Macho Madness, even a Dirk Benedict movie sounds exciting.
Or maybe it was the sight of Billy Barty beating Charles Nelson Reilly with a cane? Nah.
You should know upfront that most of your time here will be spent with Harry Smilac (Dirk Benedict), and that he is sleazy and smarmy and is intended to be, only he ends up being even more irritating when he begins using his sleaze on the bad guys. Harry was a big wheel in the coke-fueled, Don Kirshner-rock-concert-broadcasting 70’s; now he’s begging his lawyer Shelly for money, scamming John Astin out of luxury cars and getting chased around by Korean bankers who want to “correct” the money Harry borrowed from his lawyer (oh, those wacky racist jokes!). In the course of said scams, Harry embarks on a subplot too long boring to merit mentioning (this is also known as “the first 40 minutes of Body Slam“). This is where he meets Quick Rick Roberts (Roddy Piper), a heart-of-gold pro wrestler, and Candace (Tanya Roberts), who he romances with little more than a wry smile and a big pile of A & W drive-thru.
Bored yet? Harry signs up as Quick Rick’s manager, not realizing he’s a wrestler and not a musician, and quickly makes enemies with Captain Lou… Morano. Yes, for whatever reason, Captain Lou did not or was not allowed to use his real last name. Quick Rick was one of the Captain’s wrestlers but turned against the evil captain to take advice from his 8 year old niece. Seriously.
This obviously places Harry, who needs neither enemies nor excuses to whine, on the wrong side of Captain Lou, and when they meet up on Charles Nelson Reilly’s “Ring Talk” (“the number one talk show on television,” says Quick Rick – I guess he’s never seen “Judge Mathis”), the sparks fly. Harry tells Lou (and Billy Barty – hell if I know why he’s there) that wrestling needs smarmy, non-wrestling weasels in metallic blue suits to get out of its rut. Lou, backed by a studio audience of unwashed bikers and men dressed as nuns, throws Harry over the top rope, while Billy Barty him “butt face,” followed by some less gay-friendly language. Shortly thereafter, Quick Rick and his partner, Tonga Tom (Sam Fatu, who you know best as The Tonga Kid) get attacked from behind by Lou’s team, The Cannibals; Quick Rick asks Captain Lou if “anyone’s milked you lately” but Ax and Hammer are too formidable, and their brutal, constant pummeling causes play-by-play man Chick Hearn – yes, the basketball announcer – to remark “this is setting wrestling back A THOUSAND YEARS!” (Was there wrestling in the year 987?) Harry shows up too late to get a full pummeling, as he was hiding from creditors while dressed as a woman, but they toss him over the top rope again and that’s worth a little something.
Things are looking bad for the good guys. Harry’s lost his girlish figure and wig and gained some crutches; Rick and Tonga are laid up in the hospital, with Rick’s irritating niece reading them comic books. Harry, devastated that his cross-dressing antics cost Rick and Tom the tag titles, runs away to his beach house in a manner reminiscent of Corky St. Clair’s moment of weakness in Waiting For Guffman. Rick finds Harry and brings him back into the fold, and they cook up a terrible Rock and Wrestling tour featuring Harry’s ugly hair band, Kicks (the less said about this band, the better), and soon they’re seeing America’s scenic highways in a crappy bus with a Simple Minds poster in the back. And thus, a montage of wrestling, hair band music and hilarious bus antics. By the way, Kicks’ hit song is called “Punch,” which is what I want to do to the wall each time I hear it.
The rock ‘n’ wrestling is a hit, especially among hayseeds, so they buy a nice RV to tour in; Meanwhile, Kicks decides to change its name to Kick in time for another montage. And after getting Rick, Tonga and Kick onto the badly-doctored cover of Rolling Stone, there’s just one more mountain to climb: the Cannibals and the World Title. And so we return to Charles Nelson Reilly’s odd wrestling show, where Billy Barty decries the rock/wrestling connection as “wrestling for wimps… to wrestle, you need balls – big ones!” Harry and Captain Lou trick each other into a grudge match, but not before killing Billy Barty (his dying word is “f_____s!”) Harry also patches things up with Candace, who needed to get out of the picture in time for the VHS release of Beastmaster.
It’s match night, and the stars have come out to shine! Ric Flair, Freddie Blassie, Sheik Adnan al-Kaissey and Bruno Sammartino are all at ringside. Charles Nelson Reilly will be doing play by play, joined by a resurrected Billy Barty. Sadly, we have to hear from Kick before the match, which gets Bruno up and dancing. But then The Cannibals and Captain Lou come to the ring and destroy Kick’s instruments, which is the most heroic thing done in any 1980’s movie. Bruno is so mad that he hits some random guy, and a riot breaks out in the stands â€“ and in the announce booth, where Billy Barty beats Charles Nelson Reilly with his cane. Rick and Tonga hurry to the ring for an epic battle with The Cannibals – actually it’s pretty short and weak, and the only thing I can remember from it is that Dirk Benedict kicks Captain Lou in his Morano, and then they win the belts and the movie can’t end fast enough.
So wrestling must still have a hold on me, as this one is Mildly Recommended – don’t get me wrong, it’s absolutely wretched, but the sheer number of inexplicable things happening (Bruno Sammartino dancing?) that seeing Body Slam falls under cultural literacy. You’ll feel like a better person for having lived through it.