In more ways than one, ‘Santa With Muscles’ is convinced its lead is somebody else

Hulk Hogan does Santa’s Slay first — and worse. He does it worse.

Welcome to The 12 Ways of Christmas, where we unpack weird and overlooked holiday films. Because let’s face it: the blog roll could use the attention. With little rhyme or reason, check in from now until The Day That Must Not Be Named for a new entry in our series. And while you’re at it, look back at last year’s entries, too.

When the worlds of cinema and sports entertainment collide, bad things tend to happen. The list of failed pro wrestling-to-acting careers is a long and storied one: “Macho Man” Randy Savage. Roddy Piper. Steve Austin. Paul “Triple H” Levesque. Randy Orton. And as the list grows ever longer with poorly-conceived sequels to The MarineDwayne Johnson begins to look less like an exception to the rule than a bonafide miracle.

Hulk Hogan (née Terry Bollea) certainly isn’t a Dwayne Johnson, but he’s not exactly a “Miz” either. Most of that is owed to his notable appearance as “Thunderlips” in Rocky III. Less ostentatious performances in 3 Ninjas: High Noon at Mega Mountain, Mr. Nanny, and the wrestling-centric No Holds Barred lack the gruff enthusiasm of Hogan’s in-ring persona yet keep him in a physical role.

And then there’s Santa With Muscles. Hogan stars as selfish millionaire health food supplier Blake Thorn, who takes a bump on the noggin while fleeing police after an enthusiastic game of paintball gets out of hand (Yes, really). When Thorn regains consciousness inside the town mall, he’s convinced by a money-grubbing rent-a-elf (Don Stark) that he’s actually Santa Claus, and his egocentrism is miraculously washed away by the season of giving. With a new, benevolent identity, Thorn’s strongman Saint Nick sets about thwarting the plans of Ebner Frost (Ed Begley, Jr.), who has his sights set on an orphanage and the magical crystals buried underneath it.

Its reputation as a bad movie is legendary, but this isn’t even serviceable Christmas comfort food. The sunny West Coast setting isn’t even ironically appropriate while the bizarro “crystals” MacGuffin and Begley, Jr.’s extreme aversion to germs simply don’t make sense; at one point, Frost dons a full-on HazMat suit before venturing out in public. Any indications of Christmas are tertiary, from the orphanage’s sad decorations to the ridiculous cap Hogan’s Thorn insists on sporting throughout the movie. With a Santa suit sans-sleeves and thick black leather gloves, the Santa cap is the only part of this making good on its promise.

That lack of any yuletide connection is puzzling given how earnest Santa With Muscles is. Thorn becomes the defacto defender of the film’s trio of orphans (including a very recognizable Mila Kunis), giving out hugs and life lessons on avoiding violence with doofy smiles and a twinkle in his eye. In some fashion, Hogan’s trying to channel Santa’s good nature and ends up coming off like a creepy born again. It’s a troubling directorial choice for director John Murlowski, whose career found a second life with VOD genre pictures after this stuck around in movie theaters for a cool two weeks.

This could have worked. For all of its hammy antics, Santa’s Slay understands it has a real-life monster as its lead, and Bill Goldberg’s humor stems directly from sticking a WCW heavyweight inside of a Santa suit. While Hogan has never come close to oozing the charisma of his wrestling characters, he’s shown he’s better than this with roles that remind us he made his name off of bodyslamming Andre the Giant. That’s why Santa With Muscles fails. It’s convinced its lead is something he isn’t, right down to one of its cherub orphans. And when she learns Thorn isn’t the real Santa, she convinces herself he’s even better than Kris Kringle. I wish that were true, little girl. I wish that were true.

Way #1: Christmas With the Kranks