Everybody needs a vacation sometimes—even intergalactic mercenaries like Shep Ramsey (Hulk Hogan) in Suburban Commando. To call this interstellar 1991 comedy low-budget would do an incredible disservice to Royal Crown Cola, who pumped all 90-minutes of director Burt Kennedy’s science fiction vision with as much product placement as possible adjacent to Hogan’s bulging physique.

Yet some people, like Ramsey, just can’t relax. As a pet project while visiting suburban California, he takes on the responsibility of helping Charlie Wilcox (Christopher Lloyd) become more assertive. The timing couldn’t be better for Wilcox, as he is underappreciated and underpaid by his boss at an architecture firm, forcing his wife Jenny (Shelly Duvall) to take in an alien tenant. Charlie’s family immediately takes to this gargantuan stranger living in their former toolshed, even though Charlie himself is suspicious that Shep is not actually from France like he says. While Ramsey skulks the town stopping muggings and terrorizing a nocturnal mime, Charlie stumbles upon the alien technology that brought his new tenant to Earth. After Charlie uses the alien technology to stop an attempted sexual assault that was disturbingly out of place in a family comedy, the power signals from the weaponry alert two intergalactic bounty hunters (Tony Longo and fellow WWE star The Undertaker) who are tracking Ramsey. Through the rest of the film, Charlie and Ramsey are beset by alien mafiosos who do not have a single line of dialogue.

But plot isn’t what makes Suburban Commando a remarkable showcase of pro-wrestlers-turned-actors, well before people like John Cena or Rock the Dwayne Johnson changed careers more earnestly. What makes the film an unearthed gem from the collection of “Movies That Don’t Sound Real But Are” is the simple second-by-second movement. Set in a city overrun by Royal Crown Cola, petty crime, and humanoid-looking alien commandos, Shep comes in with an outside perspective on the suburban life of 1991. At a time when the country was changing and welcoming in a new era of popular culture, this bastion of the ‘80s comes in with his signature brand of Hulkamania to set things right in an ever-crumbling suburban jungle plagued by skateboarding youngsters, talk show self-help gurus and a Scotch-swilling World War II colonel reliving his glory days on the battlefield in a burnt-out jeep rotting on his front lawn. Colonel Dustin McHowell (Jack Elam) is just one example of the film’s penchant for introducing plot points as quickly as it abandons them.

Crossing action movies, sci-fi and comedy in a vehicle for stars from the WWF (as the league was then known), Suburban Commando doesn’t satisfy anybody’s genre expectations. The fight scenes somehow seem less rehearsed than a Saturday morning wrestling match. The opening shot freely copies Star Wars: A New Hope, down to the generic John Williams-inspired score. If the movie has any strengths, it’s Hulk Hogan’s ability to read low-hanging jokes in a monotone voice, then clobber someone with the inevitable choreography of a fixed boxing match.

Hogan wasn’t the first athlete, or even the first wrestler, to try their hand at acting; Rowdy Roddy Piper made his acting debut in John Carpenter’s paranoid 1988 vision They Live; Godfather hitman Luca Brasi was played by Lenny Montana, who was a successful wrestler in the ‘50s. But Suburban Commando seemed to usher in a new generation of larger-than-life sportsmen appearing on screen. Still, its artistic merits are limited. If you go in knowing that the film is holding down a 15 approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, you’ll enjoy it a lot more than if you were looking for a display of Hogan’s artistic range.

– Michael Broerman

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