Having recently learned that Troma Entertainment picked up Pro Wrestlers vs. Zombies for distribution, this month’s Ringside Cinema focuses on a forgotten gem of a wrestling movie that can be seen as a Troma-lite attempt at kitsch and camp: The Naked Man. Co-written by Ethan Coen. Yes, as in one-half of the brother team that’s co-written and directed The Big Lebowski, Fargo, No Country for Old Men, etc. Proving that Joel Coen is the more talented one of the two, and that Michael Rapaport is a strange choice to play a wrestler on film, but still not as strange a choice as Oliver Platt.
I’d like to think that as a fan of professional wrestling for the past 25 years, I’ve been indoctrinated to be open-minded and give things a fair chance before disapproving them. Then again, as a fan of professional wrestling for the past 25 years, I’ve also become a self righteous asshole who will love something one minute, then completely shit on it as soon as it slightly strays from what I learned to love in the first place. Case in point: Zack Ryder. I loved what he was doing at first with his DIY disposition that led to his popular YouTube channel, but got tired of him as soon as he started getting more exposure on Raw. Anyway, I wanted to like The Naked Man at first, if anything because of its absurdity. I can appreciate all films from foreign classics like The Bicycle Thief and understated indie fare like Momma’s Man, as much as so-bad-they’re-good movies like The Miami Connection. But for some reason, I couldn’t get behind The Naked Man. Hey yo! Ba-dum-tss.
It felt like a movie that was trying too hard to be something that it wasn’t fully committing to in the first place. Which explains how this movie had fallen into the shadowy depths of obscurity. Edward Bliss Jr. is a chiropractor by day, and a wrestler by night, which is also the tagline for the movie. He had a falling out with his father because of his career choice as a chiropractor, mind you, and his refusal to follow in his father’s footsteps of being a pharmacist. This is all told in great detail in one of the longest flashbacks I’ve ever witnessed in a movie. For a minute there, I thought we were just going to stick with the flashback for the rest of the movie, but after 10-15 minutes, we finally jumped back to present time. And although this movie was released in 1999, present time in the film was a blurry haze that darted in and out of the 1950’s, complete with the jargon, cheesy bad guys, and hard-boiled detectives. Edward and his pregnant best gal are moving to the next town over so he can reconcile with his pops and open up his own business, right across the street from his dad’s pharmacy/soda fountain joint.
All is forgiven by dad and at the height of their reconciliation and introduction to Edward’s wife, Edward takes off to go “see a man about an x-ray machine.” Enter evil handicapped, crime boss, Sticks Varona who gets around with the help of of his two forearm crutches,and his Elvis-impersonating sidekick, Driver. Sticks is upset that there’s no wheelchair accessible ramp in sight and after having his offer to buy the store be declined by Edward Sr., he shoots the place up thanks to his James Bond-like forearm crutches, that double as guns. Edward returns to see the the cops and proper authorities tend to the aftermath, and instantly goes in an ape-shit trance that leads him to cartoonishly murder and/or cripple his fellow wrestlers.
While on the run from stoic gumshoe and most depressed bachelor ever, Detective Koski, and his partner, Detective Roger Sterling from Mad Men, Edward decides to track down the man who murdered his family. Along the way, he picks up hot biker chick, a pre-She’s All That Rachel Leigh Cook, who plays Edward’s temporary love interest. All this happens as Edward is dressed as his Slim Goodbody-rip off, wrestling alter ego: The Naked Man.
Edward not only tracks down Sticks with such ease, but also learns that Sticks’ chain of pharmacies distribute prescription drugs, and illegal drugs as well. In the movie’s final sequence of events, Edward arrives at a small airport where he’s been tipped off that Sticks is about to receive a large shipment of cocaine. After literally tying up one of the henchman into a human pretzel, he struggles to defeat the Elvis-loving Driver. However, a backfired attempt to inject Edward with a syringe filled with some drug cocktail, leaves the Driver in a still conscious coma in which Edward gets him to do his bidding. In one of the best scenes of the film, if not THE best scene, a hypnotized Driver walks over to kill his own boss and confidante, only to walk his dumbass into the propeller of the plane. Somehow, in all the mess, his intestines also get caught. The propeller continues twirling rapidly, tugging on his insides as they unravel in a bloody mess on the ground. Like I said, best scene in the movie.
Before Edward can deliver Stick’s comeuppance, he miraculously helps him walk again by performing some of his unorthodox chiropractic moves. Instead of thanking Edward, the jerk attempts to blow his brains out, but ends up on the receiving end of one of Detective Koski’s perfectly-timed bullets. Koski also mentions that Edward’s wife is still alive. In the end, we get a touching scene of Edward reuniting with his wife in the hospital room. Her, lying in bed, still alive and pregnant, and him, clad in an orange jumpsuit, as he’s on his way to jail, but reassures her that everything is okay as he’s pleading insanity.
This movie should serve as a warning to all storyboard artists. Just because you can create a visual of something that was written by somebody else, even if they are visuals for award-winning, great Hollywood films, it doesn’t necessarily mean you can write a screenplay yourself. But if you really want to watch a good, underrated movie on Netflix Instant with Michael Rapaport losing his mind and fighting bad guys, check out Special. I hate to shit on this movie this much, I even thought that maybe if it had more wrestling it would’ve been better. But then I remembered the wrestling.
Knowing you already have to suspend belief for most films, and all of wrestling, even The Naked Man pushed that concept to its limits, thanks to its portrayal of professional wrestling. I’ve seen more realistic wrestling in a Bugs Bunny cartoon. I guess it goes with the territory, if you see a wrestling movie that happens to be a slapstick comedy, chances are the wrestling is going to look cartoony as hell. Even in movies like Ready to Rumble and Nacho Libre, where the wrestling is somewhat realistic (and no, I’m not being hyperbolic), there’s always a move or hold that even the most hardcore wrestling fan can’t defend. For example, when The Naked Man lifts up his buddy The Viking, who’s twice his size, over his head and scales the third rope, only to drop The Viking headfirst and literally plant him into the canvas, you can’t help but think, “Do we really need to go there to prove how fake it is?” What made the over-the-top wrestling even more absurd was the fact that the movie actually acknowledges that wrestling is fixed.
I did enjoy the danger-alarm going off in the dressing room, calling all the wrestlers to hit the ring and take out The Naked Man. This would be cool to see in the WWE during a Royal Rumble, or battle royal. Just a crazy, loud-ass alarm blaring over the speakers and a bunch of dudes pouring out the dressing room to kick some ass. This should be some future wrestling stable’s entrance. I will give the film props for having Edward cut a promo after murdering everyone, and going on a nonsensical rant a la Ultimate Warrior, and still doing a better job at delivering a wrestling promo than Jumpin’ Jeff Farmer ever could.
From what I could tell there weren’t any actual wrestlers involved in the movie, at least not in front of the screen. Unless you count Alex Rizzo AKA Big Dick Dudley, who is featured in the movie, not as a wrestler, but as a tough biker guy named Mountain. When Big Dick Dudley is your professional wrestler cameo, and you won’t even bother casting him as a wrestler, that’s definitely not a good sign and a testament to just how horrible a wrestler Big Dick Dudley was.
Star Rating: *