Before the lackluster comebacks and racist tirades, Hulk Hogan regularly starred in family-friendly movies. The films did not do well with critics or at the box office, but Hogan still had a strong crossover appeal. Despite being in the midst of the biggest heel run of his career, it only seemed right that he star in a Christmas movie. In 1996, Santa with Muscles opened in theaters across the country in time for the holidays.
Christmas movies do not require a deep story. Have some misguided person learn the true meaning of the holiday spirit through a series of adventures, add in an epiphany when things are at their worst, then send the audience home happy. It is a simple story that Hollywood has been able to use to produce classics. The story in Santa with Muscles is a mess. The audience immediately learns that a small orphanage is in trouble due to the plotting of an evil millionaire. We are then introduced to Blake Thorn (Hogan). Thorn lives in opulence, recites his many rules to success (Do not lend a hand, you may need it later; do not donate to charity, they will just keep coming back for more), and battles his staff in timed trials to stay in top physical condition. When Thorn ends up with amnesia and mall elf Lenny (Don Stark) leads him to believe he is Santa Claus, it becomes clear how this evil millionaire will learn the error of his ways. It is at this point that the movie introduces a second evil millionaire. Ebner Frost (Ed Begley Jr.) is the man who is actually trying to get rid of the orphanage. The film never explains this early twist. Thorn is a selfish business man who is always looking out for profit, but he never comes across as inherently evil. He is more mischievous than diabolical. After getting amnesia, Thorn feels an unexplained need to help the orphanage. He battles Frost’s henchmen and ultimately saves the day once his memory has returned. Since it is never established that Thorn hates Christmas, his “change” comes off as more confusing than heartwarming. Frost, meanwhile, simply goes to jail.
There are other continuity errors. One scene in the movie begins around the dinner table before Dr. Blight (Steve Valentine) arrives to attack Thorn and the orphans. One of the children even walks into a dark room (the lighting is so bad that the only way the audience knows she is in a dark room is because the young girl literally says, “The lights went out.”) The two begin a battle that eventually ends up outside in broad daylight. At the beginning of the climax, Frost and his crew storm into the orphanage and capture everyone inside. Frost thanks Lenny for letting him in causing the elf to look always in guilt. It is as if some scenes are missing since the villains are able to get in without any help. The biggest mistakes involve Thorn. Lenny immediately recognizes him as the richest man in ten states. Thorn’s image appears on the many products he sells, yet no one at the orphanage recognizes him. The children even eat cereal that has a picture of Thorn on the box-while Thorn sits across the table from them-and fail to recognize him. Even more frustrating, Thorn is returned home when-you guessed it-someone recognizes him. (This pivotal scene happens off screen.)
Along with the story issues, the movie suffers from poor acting, particularly from Hogan. Dwayne Johnson has pretty much destroyed the myth that wrestlers cannot put on credible performances in movies. Hogan has already shown that he can not even convincingly play himself (No Holds Barred), but his role in Santa with Muscles is bad by even his standards. Hogan initially sounds like someone who is playing actor. Once he settles in, he sounds like a telemarketer using their best sales voice. At his best, Hogan sounds like he is just reading lines without emotion. The sped-up fight scenes and cartoon sound effects do not help. The rest of the cast is competent, but they play comically over the top roles. You are left with option of ridiculous acting or ridiculous characters. However, it is Hogan that gets a vast majority of the screen time (I wonder if he had creative control in his contract?) and ends up brining the entire movie down.
Everyone wants to give Christmas movies the benefit of the doubt. They are about shutting off your brain, enjoying the holiday magic, and brining a smile to your face. Santa with Muscles definitely allows you to turn off your brain, but the only laughs it brings are for all the wrong reasons. This holiday film would even make a reformed Ebenezer Scrooge exclaim, “Bah! Humbug!”