Ringside Cinema

Body Slam (1986)

BodySlamVHSDon’t let the alternate VHS cover fool you, this is the same 1986 classic that stars Dirk Benedict from The A-Team and Donna’s mom from That 70’s Show.

The Storyline
It’s obvious the main character of Harry Smilac was based in part on WWE owner Vince McMahon, but part of me felt like he probably co-wrote it as well, like he did No Holds Barred. Only, to throw the scent off the autobiographical trail, he decided to make Harry  more relatable by making him a down-on-his-luck, double-crossing music producer from Beverly Hills. And a very charming ladies man. In all seriousness, if the writers wanted us to sympathize with Harry by having his Ferrari repossessed within the first two minutes of the movie they had quite the uphill battle on their hands. Nothing in me wanted to see this guy succeed.
BodySlamPosterThe fact that he was able to easily win over Roddy Piper’s character, “Quick” Rick Roberts, and Sam Fatu’s Tonga Tom, with his slick negotiations made it even harder to root for him because, after a couple of matches, he got them black-balled from every major wrestling show. Thus, not delivering on his end of the bargain, but still receiving his $500 a week retainer fee and 15% of whatever they made. Not to mention, further solidifying himself as the Reagan-era, yuppie, douche bag we basically perceived him to already be in the opening credits.

And he was a racist. At least towards Asian people. The amount of racist insults hurled at Mr. Kim, an honest debt collector looking to retrieve money that Harry owed, was enough to make 2 Broke Girls blush. From making fun of Mr. Kim’s inability to correctly pronounce his “L’s” to confusing his Asian stereotypes, by referring to Kim as Chinese or Japanese, when Mr. Kim reminded him several times that he was Korean. Then again, Harry wasn’t the only culturally insensitive person, so were the sound effects crew of Body Slam, who decided to add a loud GONG sound whenever Mr. Kim showed up. There was also a nice helping of homophobia to accompany the racism, but thankfully, such hate wasn’t spewed by Harry. Instead, midget manager Tim McClusky was the one shouting that pro wrestling didn’t need any “faggots,” because that’s the last thing a theatrical sport involving muscular men in speedos needs. Am I right?

Having Harry paired up with Rick, the All-American wrestler with his, too-smart-for-her-own-age, daughter Missy who is always by his side, and token Tonga Tom did help restore some faith in Harry as an actual person with feelings.

Having had enough after Rick and Tom are brutally beaten by Axe & Hammer, respectively known as The Cannibals, and only his second match as their manager, Harry reasons that he can’t stand seeing people he cares about getting hurt. People he’s probably known for about two weeks, max. When really, we all know he figured he would never make any real money managing a pair of losers. And how is Harry going to keep his Ferrari from getting repossessed without making money? This is the 80’s, goddammit. The height of American capitalism and consumerism! Money talks. It even talked Candace, Harry’s love interest, into giving him a second chance after having ruined her mother’s fundraising benefit. All he had to do was promise his earnings from the big Rock ‘n’ Wrestling event that culminated at the end of the movie to Candace’s mom.

That’s right. Harry figured out how to finally make steady money by pairing up wrestling with his only remaining musical clients, The Kicks. He married the two and took them on a tour that not only provided the movie with two very 80’s musical montages, but also hearkened back to the carnival days of professional wrestling when wrestlers used to challenge members of the crowd. The act quickly caught on fire as they defeated no-name locals and blew the roof off of places like the San Bernardino Arena, which held like 100 people. Tops. Capitalizing on their new-found popularity, Harry secured Rick and Tom a shot at the world tag team champions, The Cannibals, which they naturally won. And all was well in Harry’s world of champagne wishes and caviar dreams.

in 1957, French literary theorist and philosopher Roland Barthes once wrote a piece called “The World of Wrestling” in which he called it the “spectacle of excess.” This was in 1957! Like, 95% of that excess was most likely made up of Gorgeous George. Keeping that in mind, pro-wrestling in the 80’s, particularly the WWF, will always be fondly remembered more than any other era in professional wrestling. Everything at that time was turned up to 11.  Rock ‘n’ roll music helped wrestling gain mainstream appeal during a time period that was ready to fully embrace it, in all its absurd glory. Body Slam definitely has reserved a spot for itself in a time capsule of the 80’s. It’s worse than No Holds Barred, which says a lot, and by that argument alone, it’s way better. Body Slam also needed to exist as a better origin story of the marriage between rock ‘n’ roll and wrestling than, one day Capt. Lou Albano was cast as the dad in Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” music video and Vince McMahon wanted in on that sweet MTV money.
PiperChokedThe Wrestling
For a movie that involved quite a few wrestlers, the wrestling is well represented here and, in true kayfabe fashion, is presented as a legit sport. It was hard not to laugh when Harry suggested that Rick tighten up on the armbar. Stupid mark. Even most of the wrestlers’ dialogue seemed to be scripted from wrestling promos, which made hearing these lines shouted in public places like the gym, and outside convention centers, instead of inside a wrestling ring, all the better. The moves are actual moves and aren’t too far-fetched, even for pro wrestling. In one match, Rick and Tom even go on a Rock ‘n’ Roll Express comeback by throwing double dropkicks and double just about anything for the win. My only gripe was the crappy sound effects used for the moves. Punches and kicks should make different sounds, especially when they’re performed on different parts of the body. At one point, Harry kicks Capt. Lou in the balls, and it makes the same sound as when Rick punches Axe in the face. What the hell were the Captain’s balls made of?
Rick&TomThe Wrestlers
The majority of the main casts involves wrestlers like “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, Sam Fatu AKA Tongan Kid, The Wild Samoans: Afa & Sika, The Barbarian, and Teijo Khan (who I never heard of and researched on YouTube, only to find one of the best wrestler vignettes ever). However, you will find Ric Flair no-selling his appearance at the final wrestling event in the movie, which makes sense seeing as he was the NWA Champion, the organization that was at the furthest end of the  Rock ‘n’ Wrestling spectrum. Bruno Sammartino, who missed the Rock ‘n’ Wrestling era and most likely looked down on it. And then, guys like “Classy” Freddie Blassie and Sheik Adnan because they were also wrestlers at one point.

Star Rating: ***

6 thoughts on “Body Slam (1986)”

    1. Sounds like a cool podcast. Will definitely check it out. Wouldn’t hurt if I heard a shout-out on there for Old School Jabronies’ commitment to wrestlers acting via the “Ringside Cinema” and “What the World is Watching” posts. Haha


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