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Hipster Holy Grail: The Ultimate Weapon (1998)

The Hipster Holy Grail is a weekly experiment where I review a movie that's at least 10 years old and has less than 5,000 ratings on IMDb. I always hope to discover a hidden treasure. Sometimes I don't. This week, I watched....

The Short Bit for People Who Don't Like to Read Reviews

The Ultimate Weapon is really damn boring.

My Rating: 1 / 5

The Bit About Hulk Hogan's Career

Were you aware that Hulk Hogan was still trying to act as late as 1998?  I didn't know that.

Depending on how you define the words "movie" and "starring," you could argue that The Ultimate Weapon was Hogan's last feature film performance.  Since then he's been in dozens of wrestling shows / videos, a couple of made-for-TV movies / TV pilots, and done some voice work, so it's not that he hasn't been busy - but he hasn't really been prominent in anything that would traditionally be considered a "feature."

And while I'm aware that Hogan went through a high profile divorce and has had some medical problems in the last twenty years - apparently getting punched in the head and guts for a living is risky - I was never under the impression that the Hulkster had become "washed up" in a global sense.  The dude had money in 1998 and still has money now.  It's not like he just had to have the paycheck.

His previous attempts to break into a legitimate career are all notorious critical flops.  His best movie was made well before anybody tried to bank a film's success off his name alone, which means his film career was pretty much over before it started.  No Holds Barred came out in 1989 and Mr. Nanny, the last of his big budget features, fizzled out in 1993.

So I guess all of this is just a long way of me asking: why was he still making movies in 1998?

I guess the first person to blame would be one Jon Cassar, frequent director of 24 and the auteur behind a trilogy of films that featured Hogan.  The one before, Assault on Devil's Island, and the one after, Assault on Death Mountain, were made-for-TV movies that apparently were meant to be pilots for a basic cable TV show about Navy SEALS.  The Ultimate Weapon is the only "legitimate" feature of the three, but given the production quality, it's a step above the others in name only.

But if it wasn't Cassar, it would have been somebody else, I'm sure.  I get the feeling that Mr. Hogan is the type of dude who simply enjoys putting in a performance.  You'd kinda have to be in order to suffer professional wrestling for almost forty years, right?  So I don't think something like The Ultimate Weapon was a case of misguided vanity.  I think it's just that a guy who always dreamed of being an actor made the right friend and had a chance to give his long-suffering career one more shot.

Did it work?  Hell, no.  But you can still feel a little sentimental about him trying, anyway.

The Part Where I Summarize the Plot

Ben Cutter (Hogan) is a highly-skilled mercenary.  He is plagued by terrible dreams - perhaps memories - of some traumatic event involving his failed attempts to save his ten year old daughter who is being pursued by soldiers in a war-torn jungle.  The opening credits are intercut with one of these dreams, and when it ends, the movie gives us a glimpse of Cutter's home life: he owns a quiet ranch in the countryside where he spends time with his girlfriend, Lorrie.

Lorrie's upset with Cutter when he gets a phone call from his boss and accepts another dangerous mission overseas instead of spending time at home.  This struggle - the delicate balance between family and slaughtering people for money - ends up being the film's principal conflict.  I wish I was joking.

Low-budget action movies have to fill in gaps between the few explosions they can afford, so I totally get why they rely on interpersonal drama.  (Interpersonal drama is also the entire basis of storytelling, but I'm trying to make a point.)  The thing is, you as the storyteller have to be invested enough in your drama that you're willing to sell it to your audience.  Otherwise it just looks like a bunch of scenes that you feel obligated to string together.

But if you both don't care about your own dramatic bullshit and you make it the majority of your movie, then what's the point?  Who could possibly want to watch this?


Anyway, even though it comprises more than half the run-time, the movie seems to think the family stuff is a B plot, which would mean the A plot is all the crap that happens when Cutter goes to meet his boss.  He gets a mission to bust up some arms smuggling, supposedly at the behest of the UN.  His only support comes in the form of his former partner's son: a dude named Dean (Carl Marotte) who won't quit yapping about how his dad and Cutter were bestest friends.

Dean is a pretty terrible character for a lot of reasons, but it's exacerbated by some of the worst casting.  Carl Marotte is only six years younger than Hulk Hogan and he actually looks slightly older.  The result kinda reminds me of that scene from an old episode of "The Simpsons" when they're trying to make a Radioactive Man movie and Mickey Rooney tries to play Fallout Boy.

It's also pretty gross because Dean ends up being the romantic interest for Cutter's daughter, who actually is cast appropriately.

Did I mention that I hate Dean yet?  He's possibly the worst part of the movie.  He's supposed to be the comic relief, but half his lines aren't even jokes.  They're just things he says after somebody dies, and even though you can frame that dramatically and use those moments to punctuate a scene, it doesn't make them funny.  Good example: there's a part toward the end where it cuts away to Dean getting caught in a shootout, and he mugs to the camera and quips, "Jeez, I'm gonna bleed to death."  Cut back to Cutter's adventure.

How's that a joke?

Anyway, what were were talking about?  Some stupid mission they're on?  Yeah, so, Cutter and Dean have to bust up this smuggling ring, but they find out that they're not actually confiscating the weapons for the UN.  Instead, they're working for the IRA.  Somehow.  And that pisses Cutter off, so he blows up some stuff and goes home.

Then it's kind of like we forget all about the A plot for awhile, because most of the movie is about Cutter trying to settle down and put together the pieces of his life.  He proposes to his girlfriend (and I'm honestly surprised it didn't cut immediately to them fucking after that, which would be par for the course for this type of movie) and tries to find his estranged daughter, Mary Kate, to make amends.

Around here is where you find out that the dream Cutter was having at the beginning of the movie wasn't a real memory.  Instead, it appears to have been the manifestation of his deep-rooted fear of losing contact with his family because of his work.  Based on the interplay between Cutter and Mary Kate, it doesn't seem like there really was any kind of traumatic event between them - he was just kind of a deadbeat dad and she doesn't want to deal with him now.

Learning this after an already-20 minute detour from the gunrunning plot just feels like a slap in the face.  Not only are we going to keep getting bogged down in Mary Kate's daddy issues, but they're not even as interesting as the opening sequence implied.  Wouldn't it be great if it turned out she actually was abandoned behind enemy lines when she was 10?  That would be so much more interesting.  You'd get to dig into all kinds of amazing questions.  Why was a 10 year-old American girl in a war zone to begin with?  How did Cutter find her, and how did he then lose her again?  How did she get back to America, and why does she blame Cutter for her tragic childhood?  Is it awkward when he tries to have Thanksgiving dinner with her?  And maybe she always says, "This year I'm thankful that I was rescued from behind enemy lines when I was a little gir-oh, wait, no I'm not, because you suck at your job, dad."

All of that sounds like a really great movie.  A lot better than finding out that Cutter was just kind of an absent parent.  Who cares about that?

So, finally, the A plot re-enters the movie in the form of Dylan McBride, a rich dude and obvious villain.  Dylan set up the previous mission with blah blah blah, has a flash drive necklace with important bank codes blah blah blah, murder murder, hates Cutter for screwing up his day.  He tries to kidnap Mary Kate to lure Cutter to his evil lair and get revenge.

(The necklace is not really important at all.  I only mention it because it leads to one of the only moments in the movie that I legitimately enjoyed, which is when Lorrie tries to hack into the drive on her computer and reveals that A) she's trying to open a file that is literally called "Secret File.doc," and B) she's not actually trying to hack it at all... she just keeps clicking the "open" button and announces that she can't get in without a password.)

Eventually Cutter decides he's had enough of his family and it's time to get back to the goddamn point, so he goes to meet with his boss again.  This is one of the only other moments in the movie that I actually enjoyed, because his boss was shot in the chest by McBride's men sometime around the end of Act 1 and we were left to assume that he was dead.  But when Cutter finds him, he's still alive - just bleeding out, and his actual line in the movie is, "What took you so long?"  Pretty much perfect.

So, yeah, now Cutter confirms that McBride is the bad guy and tries to kill him, which leads to a final confrontation at Cutter's ranch.  A bunch of crappy gunfighting and then a barn explodes.  The End.

I don't want to rehash all the specific ways this movie failed.  It's just not very interesting.  It seems to think that a lot of its subject matter is inherently shocking or riveting and so it makes no effort to keep you invested.  I'd say it's the kind of movie you expect your dad to love, except that I'm a dad now and I find that insulting.

The Other Bit About Hulk Hogan's Career

So, I mentioned earlier that this wasn't really a vanity piece for Hogan, but it's kind of like his swan song - at least as far as cinema is concerned.  He's still doing bit parts and voice acting here and there, but given that he hasn't tried another role like this in over 15 years at this point, I think maybe he's just finally moved on.

I have to admit - it's kind of unfortunate.

Let's be clear: Hogan is not a good actor.  He's incredibly wooden and has surprisingly little screen presence, especially considering how enormous and fit he is.  But he's actually not as bad an actor as you might expect.  His delivery isn't stilted and he at least seems to be engaged in every scene, even if he isn't commanding your emotions.  He's not a great lead, but he knows what to do and he knows what kind of movie he's making.

His performance in TUW is actually understated.  Can you believe that?  It's a pretty chill, emotionally dense role with a lot of introspective moments.  It doesn't really "work," but it's not a spectacular failure, either - and that says a lot considering the dude's entire career was based on summoning rage-strength and screaming.

It makes you wonder if he would've had more success as a bit player in some indie movies or a couple of comedies.  Like maybe if he played Seth Rogen's grumpy dad, or if he was a stoic, silent bodyguard to a Wes Anderson protagonist.  You could picture him standing next to Steve Zissou with his arms folded and giving people a menacing look, right?  That could be funny.  Maybe every now and again it cuts to Hogan whittling or something?

I really hated TUW.  A lot.  This is one of the most unpleasant viewing experiences I've had while writing these Holy Grail reviews.  But it gave me a better appreciation for Hogan as an actor, and that's worth something.  You know, it's not too late, Hollywood.  I'm sure he can stand in the background of whatever piece of crap you've got Franco working on.

The Part About Rape (Again)

Man, I'm writing about rape two weeks in a row.  And once again, a movie I watched for the Holy Grail features a tasteless and poorly implemented rape scene that perfectly parallels the most recent episode of "Game of Thrones," the showrunners of which are proving themselves more and more to be either incompetent or uncreative. You be the judge.

Anyway, this time around the scene in question involves a woman who is almost raped and falls under the protection of one of the protagonists, which ends up turning her on so much that she naturally decides to treat him to some tasty hot lovin'.  You know.  Just like in real life.  Common story, right?  Police officer stops a rape, victim gives road head?  Happens all the time.

Or... or I guess it could just be a really disgusting and exploitative use of a basic human fear paired with shitty gender politics and unrealistic expectations of sex as a reward.  The latter of these is just as bad and damaging to gender equality as a really sleazy rape.

In fact, it might even be worse because it's more insidious.  After all, a rape scene may be unnecessary, but it's still effectively terrifying and gut-wrenching because it plays off of deeply-ingrained fears of power loss, sexual inadequacy, and genetic competition.  So it's not like it requires you to have a warped sense of morality to "work."  It just requires you to be human.

But a scene like the one in TUW (or the Gilly / Sam scene in Game of Thrones) is worse because it only works if you believe that woman are obligated - or even just psychologically able - to have sex shortly after a traumatic and horrifying violation of their safety and security.  The reward sex scene tells us that this is a good thing, that a cosmic injustice has been righted because the right penis is being utilized.  Instead of saying, "Hey, maybe the woman is just allowed to keep her body on lock-down," it reaffirms the idea that a woman owes sex to a man, which is one of the primary motivations underlying many (most?) cases of rape in the first place.

Plus, it's exceedingly creepy that the victim in TUW happens to be a 20-something stripper and the man who's being rewarded is approximately the same age (and profession) as her father, which adds this gross Electra Complex layer to the top of the shitty sexual politics lasagna.

So, yeah.  Way to go, TUW.  You managed to pack in a pretty hefty wallop of psychosexual grief in a matter of seconds.

Where You Can Watch

If you insist, The Ultimate Weapon is currently streaming on Netflix.

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