Sunday, December 11, 2016

Santa with Muscles (1996) and Action Stars in Family Films

“Santa, you sleigh me!” – Dr. Blight, Santa with Muscles

Every generation has action heroes that they enjoy watching.  The 1980s had the rise of Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dolph Lundgren, and some other muscle bound guys.  The 1990s saw Bruce Willis and Keanu Reeves find their place in action.  The late 1990s and early 2000s were a strange time when Ben Affleck and Nicolas Cage were action stars.  Now we have Dwayne Johnson, Vin Diesel, and Jason Statham gracing our screens.  These men have been through explosions, gun fights, car chases, and any other thing you can imagine.  But what if they didn’t want to do that?

There is a tendency for action stars to make family movies as their careers progress.  Sometimes, as in the case of Arnold Schwarzenegger, they overshoot it.  He has Kindergarten Cop, Junior, Twins, and Jingle All the Way that go in a more family friendly direction than his usual action shtick.   The actors made action movies that have stood the test of time like Stallone’s First Blood, and then delve into more family friendly fare like Over the Top.  Perhaps the action star had a family and wanted them to be able to watch his or her movies.  Perhaps they wanted to expand their audience into a different market.  No matter what the case, there are numerous instances of action stars diving into the world of children.

One star that frequently, and strangely, made movies for children to enjoy was Hulk Hogan.  He became a leading man in 1989 with No Holds Barred, but would soon turn to families with a series of movies that included 1991’s Suburban Commando, 1993’s Mr. Nanny, 1996’s The Secret Agent Club and Santa with Muscles, and 1998’s 3 Ninjas: High Noon at Mega Mountain.  These years may have included more movies aimed at kids than they did movies aimed at adults.  Hulk Hogan was trying to get the child audience.

That might be because of his wrestling popularity.  Hulk Hogan was one of the most popular wrestlers to ever step into the ring.  He might not be the most successful in film (Dwayne Johnson has him beat in movie popularity), but he was top dog of wrestling for a long time.  The time when he was popular was also a time when wrestling was popular.  No Holds Barred was a movie made from the success of his wrestling persona.  He was a wrestler in the movie.  Yet, part of his wrestling audience could not watch that movie because of the violence and adult themes.  The young male audience that wrestling seems to capture the attention of couldn’t see the movie that their wrestling hero was in.  Thus, he had to make movies that they could see.  He made movies that were ostensibly for kids.

Let’s take a look at this week’s movie, Santa with Muscles as an example of how it was a tough guy doing a movie for kids.  First, look at the title.  Santa is a figure that many children believe in.  He is the bringer of presents.  That is the children part of the title.  Then there is the muscles part.  That is representing Hulk Hogan himself, a muscular man.  Now, let’s see what the movie was about.  Santa with Muscles followed Blake Thorn (Hulk Hogan), an obnoxious rich guy who suffered head trauma while being chased by the police.  He was found by Lenny (Don Stark), a mall elf, and turned into a mall Santa.  Blake soon travelled to an orphanage run by Clayton (Garrett Morris) and Leslie (Robin Curtis).  He helped the orphanage defend itself against the evil plans of Ebner Frost (Ed Begley Jr.), who wanted to steal it for the minerals beneath it.  There were three children living in the orphanage that grew to love Blake, even after he remembered he was not Santa.  The children were played by Mila Kunis, Adam Wylie, and Aria Curzon.

The movie was filled with one liners and goofy comedy.  It was a family movie through and through, but filtered through the Hulk Hogan machine.  It felt like his other family movies.  There was still the action side with him kicking mad scientist butt.  He threw people, knocked people down, and did all the wrestling sort of fighting that wrestlers turned movie stars did at the time.  Roddy Piper was guilty of the same sort of action.  But it also showed Hogan caring for children and keeping them safe.  That’s the same kind of thing he did in Mr. Nanny.  Both had a similar feel to Suburban Commando.

As I mentioned earlier, many other tough guys have gone through their family film periods.  I’m going to take a look at other action stars that have jumped into the world of family movies.  One exception is that I’m not going to bring superhero movies into the mix.  At this point in time, superhero movie are the tentpole blockbusters and everyone is doing them.  They’re also more action than family, so although comic books have people of all ages as a foundation, I’m not including them as family films.  Let’s get started.

Arnold Schwarzenegger
This is the most obvious person on the list since he made such a turn from his usual action fare for many of his 1990s movies.  Technically, Twins started it off in 1988, but the 90s saw the releases of Kindergarten Cop, Junior, and Jingle All the Way.  Schwarzenegger was breaking into a new audience.  Young boys liked to sneak into action movies or find them on home video and watch them without their parents’ permission.  But now that Arnold was starring in family movies, the children would be able to see them without having to worry about permission and sneaking around.

The main difference between Arnold Schwarzenegger and Hulk Hogan is that his family movies have had staying impact.  There are always rumors of a sequel to Twins being made.  There were recently direct-to-video sequels made for Jingle All the Way and Kindergarten Cop.  People continue to quote the movies.  Kids and adults alike enjoy sharing their favourite moments.  But the one thing that is shared between these movies and those of other action stars diving into the family area is that there is a focus on children.

Jingle All the Way, which has been discussed in this blog with two posts of its own, was all about Howard finding a toy for his son.  The movie was about the family as much as it was about the action.  Kindergarten Cop was about John Kimble, a tough cop known for his action-heavy criminal-busting skills, becoming a kindergarten teacher in order to find a dangerous man.  Though there was always the story of the criminal who might harm people, the movie was more about Kimble learning how to properly take care of children.  Kids are an important part of family movies.

Sylvester Stallone
Speaking of action stars who decide to work with kids, Sylvester Stallone has done that a couple times.  The most recent that I can recall is Spy Kids 3-D, where he played the villain.  I saw the movie once when it first came out, so I don’t remember too much.  The other one that comes to mind is a movie from 1987 called Over the Top.  Hugh Jackman, another action star, made a movie just like this when he was in Real Steel.

The story of these two movies was that a man is given care of a son that he hadn’t seen for years.  The mother was dying or dead and the father was reintroduced into the son’s life.  They would eventually grow to appreciate each other through their company and through sport.  In Over the Top, it was Stallone’s arm wrestling that helped the two to bond.  In Real Steel, it was robot boxing.  Both movies represent action stars moving into movies about father/son bonding.

Vin Diesel
The Pacifier.  Vin Diesel made this movie in 2005 for Walt Disney Studios.  It was directed by the guy who made Rock of Ages, Bringing Down the House, and Cheaper by the Dozen 2.  I know it was Vin Diesel’s version of Mr. Nanny.  He had to take care of some kids.  At some point, he rode a child’s tricycle.  He made this one family movie after becoming a big action star with The Fast and the Furious, xXx, and the Riddick series.  One of his costars from the later Fast and Furious movies made a bigger impact on family films.

Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson
The man is known as franchise Viagra for what he has been able to do with sequels.  He has been brought into multiple franchises and the installment in which he joined got better critical acclaim than what came before it.  One of these franchises was the Journey series.  Brendan Fraser left the series after the first installment and Dwayne Johnson replaced him.  Both movies were solid, but there’s no denying the added charisma that Dwayne Johnson brought.  This wasn’t his only family movie, however.

A few years before he joined the Journey franchise, Dwayne Johnson made a Disney family movie trilogy.  He starred in three Disney family movies from 2007 to 2010.  First was a movie called The Game Plan where he played a football player with a daughter.  Remember that thing about children?  Then there was Race to Witch Mountain, where he was a taxi driver driving children around.  Finally, there was Tooth Fairy, which is a name that screams children.  He was a family movie juggernaut for a few years, before he went full on back into action.

There are many more action stars who have been in family movies.  Chuck Norris was in Top Dog, one of the strangest ventures into family fare, since it feels almost more adult than family, Jason Statham did voice work in Gnomeo and Juliet, and Kurt Russell starred in Sky High.  But I’ll leave those for another post on another day.  Maybe I’ll even go more in depth with the stuff I covered this week.

If anything, Hulk Hogan is an archetype for action stars who want to split their time between action and family movies.  He was the blueprint for what Dwayne Johnson would succeed with.  Hogan may not have found the same big screen success, but he could always fall back on his wrestling roots.  Others have managed to succeed where Hogan did, and succeed to a better degree.  Others haven’t.  But most have tried to find the family audience.
Now to find some notes:

  • Santa with Muscles was suggested by @LastFilmSeen, who previously suggested Santa, Jr., and Jack Frost 2: Revenge of the Mutant Killer Snowman.
  • I mentioned Jingle All the Way in this post.
  • Roddy Piper was briefly discussed.  He was in Hell Comes to Frogtown.
  • I mentioned Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was in Hercules in New York, Batman & Robin, and Jingle All the Way.
  • Clint Howard made his fourth Sunday “Bad” Movies appearance in Santa with Muscles.  He was also in House of the Dead, Blackwoods, and Blubberella.
  • Diane Robin showed up in Santa with Muscles.  She was already seen in Santa, Jr.
  • Kevin West made a return to the Sunday “Bad” Movies with Santa with Muscles, after being in Bio-Dome.
  • Don Stark, who played Lenny in Santa with Muscles, was also in Freaked.
  • Neill Calabro returned to the Sunday “Bad” Movies in Santa with Muscles.  He was previously in Batman & Robin.
  • Santa with Muscles was the second movie for Emmy Cicierega that made it into the Sunday “Bad” Movies.  She had a voice performance in Delgo.
  • Finally, Adam Wylie, who played one of the kids in Santa with Muscles, was also in Return to Sleepaway Camp.
  • Have you seen Santa with Muscles?  Have you seen any other Hulk Hogan movies?  What actions stars did I not mention being in family movies?  If you have questions or answers, you can leave them in the comments section below the post.
  • Are there any movies that you think I should watch for the Sunday “Bad” Movies?  Let me know about them.  Put your suggestions in the comments below, or put them in my Twitter feed.  I take all suggestions into consideration, unless I know it’s not a bad movie.
  • I use snapchat mostly to share clips of bad movies.  If that seems like something interesting to you, feel free to add me on snapchat.  My username is jurassicgriffin.
  • Next week is going to be an interesting week.  I’m going to be covering Saving Christmas, a Kirk Cameron religious film from a couple years ago.  I believe this is the first religious film of that type that I’ve seen for the blog, since I watched God’s Not Dead in my own free time.  These movies are crazy.  You’ll get an interesting post next week, I think.

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