*cue theme music, TitanTron montage, and pyrotechnics*
*Meier enters the ring with a microphone*
Finally… The Rock has come BACK… to movies……… (I know, I know, be still your hearts, alert A.M.P.A.S., so on and so forth).
As a former die-hard fan of what used to be called the World Wrestling Federation and is now called World Wrestling Entertainment (WCW was terrible), the casting of Dwayne Johnson, a-k-a The Rock for the new fifth installment of the Fast and the Furious saga (and, I guess, Paul “Triple H” Levesque’s film debut in the straight-to-video The Chaperone) got me wondering what my favorite film turns from those staple, squared-circle grapplers would be.
There are more to consider than just The Great One, The Hulkster, The Texas Rattlesnake, and the… John Cena. Kane (Glenn Jacobs) terrorized in the Michael Myers tradition as a psychopath in See No Evil. The late Scott “Bam Bam” Bigelow tried to bully Major Payne as a vicious, (naturally) tattoo-headed biker. The Undertaker (Mark Calaway) – with a small child’s voice – warned Hulk Hogan’s “commando of suburbia” that he, in fact, was “a dead man.” And, of course, the “Macho Man” Randy Savage, as the “freak-show” Bonesaw McGraw, couldn’t withstand the repetitive kicking administered by Spider-Man.
Here are the five I’d remember even in a sleeper-hold.
5. Jerry “The King” Lawler – Man on the Moon (1999)
Lawler’s made more of an impact in the wrestling world as a commentator, but before he was playing off the lovable Oklahoma sayings of co-worker “Good Ol’ J.R.” Jim Ross (also in the film, doing – guess what – color commentary), he was a fan-favorite face in a local wrestling circuit who found himself involved in a feud with irregular comedian and star of “Taxi” Andy Kaufman. In this biopic about Kaufman (Jim Carrey), directed by two-time Academy Award-winner Milos Forman, Lawler plays his past self/gimmick as a man fed up with Kaufman’s mockery of the form of sports-entertainment, even recreating that famous slap on David Letterman’s show. In one of his final scenes of the film, we learn the entire fiasco was just another hare-brained scheme of candid comedy devised by Kaufman and that Lawler was completely in on the joke too. Reportedly, behind the scenes, Carrey was going so “method actor” as Kaufman, he went so far as to suggest that the spirit of the comic legend was inhabiting his body Lucifer-style and really did egg on Lawler far too much before the multiple-piledriver scene, but the final cut of the film (and Lawler’s willing eagerness to bring it up on “Monday Night Raw“) allows one to speculate that this, too, was a bunch of bologna.
4. George “The Animal” Steele – Ed Wood (1994)
Another example of a wrestler playing a wrestler, I realize, but sometimes it’s best to stick with what you know (especially if you’re a gigantic brute athlete). Ed Wood is director Tim Burton’s salute to his late friend and collaborator, screen legend Vincent Price, by likening their father-son relationship to that of the one shared by critically panned “film”maker Wood (Johnny Depp) and the Hungarian portrayer of Dracula, Bela Lugosi (Martin Landau, who memorably beat both Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction and Gary Sinise in Forrest Gump for an Oscar with this performance). The film is an ensemble cast cult classic, also containing great work from Bill Murray, Jeffrey Jones, and, as the faithful ogre Tor Johnson, Steele. Sadly, it’s not Steele’s voice you hear when Tor talks, but it’s more believable with Steele’s actions than in another short scene with the also voice-replaced Vincent D’Onofrio as Orson Welles. As “The Animal,” Steele was wonderfully weird by tearing apart turnbuckles and eating their stuffing innards; in Wood, he transfers over that great weirdness and eats up the scenery, clearly having a genuine good time that’s always a pleasure to watch.
3. Rowdy Roddy Piper – They Live (1988)
This cult sci-fi/horror from John Carpenter stars the often-kilted wild card Piper as a drifter who discovers a box of sunglasses that reveal that everyday life isn’t what it appears to be on the surface. Upon wearing the shades, he finds that roughly half the population are secretly aliens and that all advertisements and assistance signs have true meanings underneath (i.e., a billboard with a swimsuit-clad female model on it is actually a sign with one word in giant letters: “PROCREATE”). Piper’s bid to be an action star ultimately (warriorly) failed pretty hard – the humorous, spazz-out energy he supplied to his wrestling gimmick seemed, after several tries, rather clunky on celluloid, reading as, in all honesty, dorky. Maybe that’s partly why his performance in Live, with its relatively dorky plotline, is utterly magnetic with its silliness. Piper’s participation led to an epic fight scene with Keith David that was mimicked shot-for-shot by “South Park” (in the episode “Cripple Fight“) and most likely the only time a wrestler has supplied a line that made the running for the American Film Institute’s 100 Best Movie Lines: the supremely awkward “I’ve come to chew bubble gum and kick ass. And I’m all out of bubble gum.” See, Schwarzenegger? Catchphrases ain’t so tough.
2. Zeus – The Dark Knight (2008)
Tommy “Tiny” Lister Jr. has done very well for himself with his Hollywood career. He’s tolerated sharing the screen with Chris Tucker on more than one occasion (Friday, The Fifth Element, etc.), once played Adam Sandler’s brother (Little Nicky), and even worked under the direction of Quentin Tarantino (Jackie Brown, another one featuring Tucker). Yup, the general rule of thumb seems to be if you can’t nab Michael Clarke Duncan or Ving Rhames, you’d probably do just as well with Lister. But did you know Lister was once a feared nemesis of “The Immortal” Hulk Hogan? In the late ’80s, Hulkamaniacs knew him better as Zeus, a crazed, cross-eyed, growling, stationary monster with a ‘Z’ shaved on the side of his head. They fought at 1989’s Summerslam and even starred/sparred in a really, really, really crappy movie called No Holds Barred. My favorite work of Lister’s? In Christopher Nolan’s highly popular Batman sequel The Dark Knight, as a fearsome convict aboard a ferry full of fellow prisoners that persuades his police guard to hand him a detonator set to explode another ferry full of innocent Gotham citizens. Lister surprises everyone watching when he refuses the dirty work, tosses the remote out a window, and quietly sits back down. It’s an underrated scene in a mega-successful film, and Lister even outshines the prior film villain’s earlier scene in it.
1. Andre the Giant – The Princess Bride (1987)
No matter how many times I watch this terrific comedy-fantasy from director Rob Reiner (back when he was on a roll as a filmmaker), I still find myself greatly admiring the perfectly fitting, smart comedic chops of the late, great (in personality and in mass) Andre Roussimoff, the Frenchman known in wrestling circles and to the world as “the Giant” (Due to the hormonal disorder acromegaly, Roussimoff stood at 7′ tall, though the WWF carded him as 4 inches taller). In a film chock full of pros like Robin Wright, Billy Crystal, and Peter Falk, he damn near steals the whole show as Fezzik, one of two henchman (the other being the also-scene-stealing Mandy Patinkin as Inigo Montoya) with a heart o’ gold. Even through his typical vocal pattern that sounded like a deeply bass, thickly French slurring of speech, kindly Andre delivered some of the film’s most memorable lines, like “I didn’t mean to ‘jog’ him so hard,” and “Anybody want a peanut?” He had phenomenal timing and (thankfully for all of us) an easy-going sense of humor that he loved to show off (There’s a great wrestling clip of him strangling baseball announcer Bob Ueker – look for it). Roussimoff was supposedly such a pleasure to work with on set that he became fast friends with Crystal, which led the staple-Oscars host to make and star in My Giant, a comedy released after Andre’s passing and dedicated in memory to him. Andre the Giant’s supporting work in The Princess Bride has set the bar for aspiring actors who are paid to wrestle, and needless to say, he set it quite high.