Exploiting our Archives: Control Nathan and Clint: Suburban Commando (1991)
Welcome to the very second installment in Control Nathan and Clint, the feature where we give the 16 living Saints who pledge to the Nathan Rabin’s Happy Cast Patreon page an opportunity to choose between which of two torments Clint and I must then watch and talk about on our podcast.
Well, actually, that’s how it’s supposed to have worked. I accidentally ended up throwing it out to the people who pledge to Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place, and your verdict was clear: you wanted us to suffer through the deservedly unloved Hulk Hogan/Christopher Lloyd inter-galactic buddy comedy Suburban Commando, which, as its title suggests, is an almost perfect cross between the Schwarzenegger classic Commando and Richard Linklater’s Suburbia, rather than No Holds Barred, Hogan’s very first cinematic vehicle.
I kid of course! Suburban Commando is based less on one specific Arnold Schwarzenegger movie than the Austrian Oak’s whole aesthetic. The more I watch the feeble film vehicles of folks like Chuck Norris and Hulk Hogan, the more I appreciate what Schwarzenegger brings to movies.
Schwarzenegger was the alpha and the omega of action movie heroes in the 1980s and 1990s. Even Sylvester Stallone was reduced to chasing him. If Schwarzenegger did a comedy, then everyone else had to do a comedy. If Arnold did a buddy comedy, then everyone had to follow suit. When Arnold went family-friendly suddenly all the other action stars temporarily got PG or PG-13 as well.
Indeed, Suburban Commando was at one point a proposed Arnold Schwarzenegger/Danny DeVito buddy comedy to be titled Urban Commando before the unlikely duo opted to do Twins, and later Junior, instead, and the movie became a science-fiction buddy comedy for the unlikely twosome of the great Christopher Lloyd and the rather crappy Hulk Hogan.
It’s easy to hate Hulk Hogan these days. He’s an enemy of the free press thanks to his Peter Thiel-funded-and-fueled war on Gawker as well as a man who violated the sanctity of marriage by making sweet passionate love to radio personality Bubba the Love Sponge’s wife on camera. He’s also been scrubbed from the archives and the history of WWE like he was Jerry Sandusky or the victim of a Stalinist purge or something.
World Wrestling Entertainment is full of deplorable pieces of shit, starting with owner Vince McMahon, and his buddy and WWE Hall of Famer Donald Trump. Do you realize how fucking awful you have to be for the world of professional wrestling to turn its back on you despite being one of the most successful wrestlers in history?
Hogan isn’t just a terrible human being and an embarrassment to a field seemingly beyond embarrassment. But he’s also a terrible actor. Even more devastatingly, he’s a terrible movie star. He’s ugly inside and out. Where the muscle-bound likes of Schwarzenegger, Dolph Lundgren and Jean Claude Van Damme look like they were created in a laboratory tasked with creating the perfect physical specimen, Hogan just looks like a roided out body builder on Venice Beach with shitty facial hair and an even worse bald mullet.
As a comic actor, Hogan has exactly one move, a bug-eyed expression of surprise he employs whenever called upon to do anything outside his wheelhouse of punching other large men, sometimes while robotically barking the kinds of one-liners that aspire to Eastwood/Schwarzenegger-style terse wisecracks but instead have more of a McBain vibe to them.
Hogan gets plenty of opportunities to look surprised and confused in the role of Shep Ramsey, an intergalactic warrior from outer space who spends more time saving worlds than he does living in them. It’s a good thing the movie continually highlights what a brave hero Shep is, because otherwise he seems like a real asshole.
After saving the day yet again, Shep’s superior orders him to kick back and take some time off on Planet Earth. He’s not too overjoyed about the prospect. In what Suburban Commando clearly hoped would become a catch-phrase, Shep regularly says things along the lines of “I hate Earth” and “I hate Earthlings.” As a representative of Earth, and Earth people, I just wanna say that the feeling is mutual.
Meanwhile, back on Planet Earth, national treasure Christopher Lloyd plays Charlie Wilcox, a total beta Cuck too emasculated to ask his boss for the raise that is every comedy protagonist’s inalienable birthright. Think about it: do movies like these ever introduce raises that aren’t deserved? Nope, every weak-willed hero deserves a raise, and should march right into their boss’ office to angrily demand it.
Charlie’s wife Jenny (Shelly Duvall, who did better, more memorable work in collaboration with Stanley Kubrick and Robert Altman than she does here) emasculates her husband two different ways: she castrates him spiritually by telling him what to do and usurping his power, but she also emasculates him by getting tarted up and throwing herself at him sexually, leading him to glumly inquire whether she’s been watching “Baby Ruth” before insisting, with an almost disconcerting level of conviction, that he’s most assuredly not in the mood. He means that he’s in the mood for sex because he’s had a bad, long, dispiriting day but it doesn’t seem like too much of a stretch to infer that he's not in the mood for sex ever, in this lifetime or the next, but he doesn’t want to put too fine a point on it.
It’s not just at home and at work that Charlie is disrespected and mocked. Strangers damn near line up to kick him in the nuts for no discernible reason. The universe never stops defecating in his gaping maw and insisting he should thank it for the privilege.
Charlie is insufficiently manly for the film’s purposes. Thankfully for him, Shep is excessively manly by any standard. He’s not just what the movie would love to believe is a humorous burlesque of arch-masculinity: he looks like a goddamned life-sized sentient penis. With a mullet. And a Fu Manchu.
Shep takes us residence in Charlie’s garage and, despite having apparently done his time on planet earth, not unlike the protagonist of the film Doin’ Time on Planet Earth, he still has a way of humorously misunderstanding the curious ways of us Earth people. Suburban Commando doesn't just fancy itself a comedy. It’s got silent-movie style gags that declare themselves as such old-style JOKES that these sequences might as well close with Hogan smiling directly at the camera and winking before an iris out.
What quality of joke are we dealing with here? Let’s just say that during his daily rounds, Shep encounters a mime minding his own business, pretending to be trapped in a box. True, it seems a little odd that this fellow was practicing his oft-maligned art at night, and for no apparent audience but Suburban Commando is so enamored of the comic conceit of Shep thinking this mime’s fantastical simulation of unlikely scenarios is authentic that it brings him back twice more over the course of the film.
Suburban Commando got jokes, son! That is not a good thing. We’re talking Laffy Taffy level jokes. We’re talking Heathcliff level jokes. We’re talking jokes about Shep being such a tough guy that even inanimate objects are terrified of him, from a car alarm that damn near shits itself in fear of Shep to a video game that gives up rather than face Shep’s fury. Suburban Commando is full of the kind of cute, comic-strip/silent-film/live-action cartoon gags that would be charmingly retro if they weren’t delivered so ineptly by a leading man with no sense of comedy or comic timing.
Hogan is so bad he brings down the actors cursed to share the screen down with him. In one of the films many eye-roll-inducing attempts at humor, intergalactic good Samaritan Shep helps a little girl whose cat is stuck on a tree branch. He reaches up and grabs the kitty, but when the bratty little girl scoffs that he found the wrong cat, Shep puts the cat back on the branch with such force that the tree snaps back and flings the cat hundreds of feet into the air to its certain death.
The movie doesn’t show the cat landing and crushing every bone in its body, as well as its spine as it dies an agonizing death, but the implication is clear: that cat died an awful, awful, very painful and preventable death, and Shep is directly responsible for the cat’s agonizing end.
The little girl is noticeably bad even for an actor in the motion picture Suburban Commando, so I was shocked to discover that she’s actually acclaimed future grown-up thespian Elizabeth Moss in one of her earliest roles despite having learned that info not too long ago on the We Hate Movies episode on this here movie.
My guilty, ironic enjoyment of previous Hogan vehicles like Mr. Nanny and Santa With Muscles led me to choice this as an option for Control Clint and Nathan but this movie made so little impression on me I actually had to watch it twice because the first viewing just kind of washed over me and my crazy brain wanted to make sure that I did justice to fucking Suburban Commando. Clint and I really work for our fifty three dollars in Patreon pledges a month.
Thankfully Suburban Commando has one big asset in the form of Larry Miller. The inveterate scene-stealer is the opposite of Hulk Hogan: he can’t not be funny. He oozes funniness. There’s hilarity in Miller’s blood and DNA. He is a consistent hoot as Charlie’s boss, a glad-handing phony with a wonderfully smarmy line of patter for everyone.
In Suburban Commando Miller has the wonderful quality of existing outside of the movie. Only he seems to realize how silly and ridiculous the film is, and is enjoying a laugh at its expense while everyone else is cursed with trying to make impossible material work with a lead who’s neither a movie star, nor an actor, nor someone with a funny bone in his body. Racist? Sure. Self-deluded? Of course. Erect and headed into the love canal of Bubba the Love Sponge's ex-wife? Possibly. Funny? No.
I was disappointed with Suburban Commando. It may just be the final Hogan movie I write about for this site, but fuck if 3 Ninjas: High Noon at Mega Mountain doesn’t look appealingly terrible as well. Oh well. Never say never.
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