We’re told via title card at the beginning of Backyard Dogs that by the year 2000, there were more than 18,000 backyard wrestling federations. What they don’t tell you is that there were double that amount of nu metal bands and they’re all on this soundtrack. Step into a transitional time period of baggy awkwardness that was the late 90’s and early 2000’s and witness a generation that spawned from the Attitude Era.
Backyard Dogs is an underdog and romance story, of both the bro and hetero variety. On the bro side, you have Lee Takura, played by Walter Jones A.K.A. The Black Ranger; and his tag partner, Cole Davis. There’s no explanation as to how they came to know each other, but they’re really tight apparently. Lee wrestles as The Ninja, because even with his foul-mouthed, womanizing ways, he still can’t shake off his Power Rangers background. Whereas Cole wrestles as The Outlaw, complete with requisite late-90’s barbwire tattoo around his arm. Lee brings his friend Kristy James into the mix to help with their online promotion, which includes key terms like “the net” and “cyberspace”. She agrees to help in order to pay off some legal fees due to getting kicked out of college for running a dorm voyeur site. Which makes all the sense in the world when your name is Kristy James. If you’re wondering if backyard wrestling was as lucrative as it was popular, consider that some game developer put out a shitty backyard wrestling video game and a sequel. And I am reviewing an extremely low-budget movie set in that exact same world.
Lee introduces Kristy to the world of backyard wrestling and potential love interest, Cole. Kristy essentially becomes what most marketing and communications majors aspire to be today, a social media manger. She decides to re-brand the guys as the Backyard Dogs, put up a website, and document their journey via online video. The ultimate goal is to make it to the Backyard Championships which take place in Beverly Hills and consists of only the best backyard wrestlers. Because when you think of a location to hold the Backyard Championships you don’t think of the Midwest or The South, you think of a stuck-up city that holds wealth and vanity in high esteem. From there, the winners go on to fight in Las Vegas on a pay-per-view sponsored by Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling (FMW), the Japanese promotion made famous by their insane hardcore matches, and, of course, Hayabusa (Rest in Peace).
The Dogs go on a tour through California’s Podunk scenic route, which includes Modesto, Bakersfield, and Lompoc, wrestling other backyarders. Along the way, they encounter Voodoo Jones (think Viscera, but 100 pounds lighter). Voodoo Jones is a big dude who unsuccessfully tries to cheat the Dogs of their money, and interferes in their matches ALL THE TIME. You’d think they were a traveling act. Jones is also the worst shit-talker in backyard wrestling history, spouting off canine-based lines like, “Heel dog!” and “You dogs are gonna get neutered!” With every subsequent fight, the Dogs find themselves wrestling in actual wrestling rings and not just dirty mattresses. The attraction between Cole and Kristy intensifies as does Lee’s jealousy, despite the fact that he never made any previous mention of liking Kristy and was boning random ring rats (backyard rats?) while touring.
With the Dogs at odds with each other over Kristy, they go their separate ways, montage-style, fighting their way to the Backyard Championships. Well, Cole has Kristy by his side because she’s already made her decision. They both make it to the show and, as if you couldn’t tell where this was going, they have to fight each other. The fight takes place within the promoter’s Beverly Hills courtyard, which looks like a bonus level out of WWF In Your House. After cutting some of the cheesiest-sounding promos on each other, Cole and Lee attempt to wrestle, but can’t bring themselves to hurt one another. The promoter probably had a feeling that a potential bro-out was possible, or he has a very shoddy security team working for him, because Voodoo Jones runs in and attacks the Dogs. He has back up, but of course they’re both eventually defeated. And the Backyard Dogs both claim the cruiserweight, but really WWE Intercontinental bootleg title, like they’re LayCool. The promoter then tells them that they’re both going to be on the FMW sponsored pay-per-view in Las Vegas. Kristy suddenly has a change of heart and doesn’t want the guys to risk their bodies anymore. But then Cole tells her he loves her so I guess that makes it okay.
The Dogs meet Hayabusa, who becomes their default trainer based on Lee referring to him as sensei two minutes into meeting him. Hayabusa did tell them they needed to train. Part of the Dogs’ training is simply watching Hayabusa do cool shit in the ring, like the Phoenix Splash and his springboard moonsault from the second rope. In the middle of “training”, some random dude named Crazy K.C. (Crazzy Steve’s uncle?) interrupts them and calls out Hayabusa. Hayabusa makes short work of K.C. and he hightails it out of there. By the way, this is the guy the Dogs are supposed to face at the Las Vegas pay-per-view event.
The Las Vegas pay-per-view match apparently takes place in the same junkyard WCW booked their Hardcore Junkyard Invitational match. Hayabusa tells the Dogs they have no chance against K.C. and their best bet is to sell a few moves and then bail on the match. Hayabusa has no faith in these guys. There’s no mention of whether this is going to be a 2-on-1 handicap match or a regular tag team match, but K.C. quickly puts the speculation to rest when he announces his mystery tag team partner. Now, if you’ve been paying attention then you already know that it’s going to be Voodoo Jones. Midway through the match Cole bails on Lee because Lee’s not taking the disqualification loss they previously agreed to. First, Cole takes the girl Lee likes, then he shits on Lee’s dream of becoming a professional wrestler. What a dick.
Seeing as FMW spent most of the budget on pyro effects, there’s no referee to declare a winner so Lee is simply helped out of the ring by Kristy. Before they can reach the trailer, Cole saves the day and takes all the glory by jumping off a stack of cars onto Jones and K.C., all 175 pounds of him is able to take out a combined weight of over 500 pounds. Lee then gets his “fighting spirit” second wind and helps Cole out because he’s a real friend. They both overcome K.C. and Jones because fat wrestlers never win important matches. Cole then takes Kristy into his arms and makes out with her, as the movie ends on them with Lee out of frame. I thought this movie was called Backyard Dogs, not Cole and Kristy Find Love Within the World of Backyard Wrestling.
It’s backyard wrestling, so you get the usual backyard wrestling weapons, like a table, steel chair, wooden pallets, washer machine, a brick, but surprisingly, no ladders. There are a few actual wrestling moves thrown in between the bashing of domestic foreign objects. And by wrestling moves, I mean wrestling punches and kicks. There’s about five actual moves in the Backyard Dogs’ repertoire, and four of them belong to Lee. Being the smaller and more agile wrestler, Lee is able to mix in some hurricanranas, flying headscissors, and lucha-style arm drags along with his ninja moveset. Cole can do a dropkick and launch himself off of high places.
The final match in Vegas plays out like your typical wrestling match. The heels dominate early on and the babyfaces sell, until they make their comeback and win. Crazy K.C. performs your typical big man moves like a bodyslam, a side walk slam, and a rare butterfly suplex. Even with Lee delivering a bunch of lucha high-flying spots, the match ends when Cole and Lee deliver a double dropkick to Crazy K.C. which renders him unconscious. A backyard wrestling match in the year 2000 ends with the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express’ finisher that put away a lot of tag teams back in the 80’s. And I’ll leave it at that because the actual wrestling in Backyard Dogs is near the bottom of the list of things that sucked about this movie.
Hayabusa! The main reason I decided to bump this movie up the queue and finally write about it. I was really hoping Hayabusa would be the final boss who the Dogs would have to overcome, but instead he ends up being their trainer. Sort of. We at least get to see Hayabusa pull off some of the cool shit that he’s known for. As awesome as he is, you’d think they would make an attempt to properly spell his name in the credits.
They get Gerdelman right, but not Hayabusa? Also, I really wish Frankie Kazarian (the other well-known wrestler featured in this movie, though not at the time of its release) would try Frankie Gerdelman out and see where it takes him.
The only other wrestlers I was able to identify are Jesse Hernandez, who played the “Bario Referee” and “Burly Redneck” wrestler, despite them doing nothing to make a Mexican dude look like a redneck. He runs the Empire Wrestling Federation out of Southern California. And finally, there’s the guy Cole fights in the opening scene, Captain Death Wish, played by Brawlin’ Bo Cooper, a Southern California indie wrestler who should think about changing his name to Captain Death Wish because that’s just an awesome wrestling name.
Star Rating: *