Thursday, 4 September 2008

The Jesse Ventura Story - Film Review

Imagine the scene. It’s Los Angeles, 1984. Wrestling superstar Jesse “The Body” Ventura is competing in the big championship match on an edition of WCW Monday Nitro. His opponent - Chris Kanyon. After throwing Kanyon over the top rope, Ventura collapses in the ring as a result of the medical condition that will ultimately end his professional wrestling career.
No, you haven’t slipped into a parallel universe. This scene did actually take place, not in real life, in the film biography of the navy SEAL turned wrestler turned politician, The Jesse Ventura Story.

Made for television by NBC in 1999, this film stars Nils Allen Stewart as the man himself, as he guides us through his life. From the proverbial humble beginnings, watching a young Cassius Clay winning his first world title, Ventura went on to gain national recognition as the dastardly heel in the world of professional wrestling, before becoming the most recognised colour announcer in the business. Then came his career in politics, first as mayor of his hometown, and then as governor of his home state.

But you see, it’s just not as simple as that, because according to this film, we, the wrestling fans, who have followed his career and life for years and years, apparently got it all wrong.

Take his professional wrestling debut, a daunting moment in anyone’s career. But Ventura was thrown in at the deep end, against World Heavyweight Champion Bill Goldberg.

Then there was his debut as a commentator, alongside the late, great Gorilla Monsoon for World Championship Wrestling.

Then there was his role in the screw-job. Los Angeles wrestler Captain Nice, on his last evening working for Chaney, the biggest wrestling promoter in the country, didn’t want to go out losing in his hometown against the new kid on the block, Raven. At the behest of Ventura, Chaney agrees to let the Captain go out with some dignity, but as Raven locks Nice in the sharpshooter, Chaney, standing at ringside, calls for the bell. Enraged, Ventura leaves his commentary position, chases Chaney down a corridor, and smashes his office door down so he can confront the crooked promoter.

Although entertaining in it’s own way, this is one of the most poorly researched films I’ve ever seen. It’s obvious that it was made to cash in on Ventura’s new-found popularity after his election victory, and even though this is a completely unauthorised account of his life, writers Patricia Jones and Donald Reiker could have done a hell of a lot more research into their subject matter, because it was obvious that wrestling fans would be interested in this piece, and the majority of the wrestling fans who have watched this probably know a lot more about Ventura’s life then either Jones or Reiker.

There’s no doubt that The Body has led a very interesting life, and I’m sure that if, presented properly, it would make a very good film. But sadly this isn’t that film.

As for the acting, it’s okay. No award-winning performances here, and Stewart does a good job in the lead role. But for long-time wrestling fans, this is like a ninety minute kick in the cocoanuts. And these cocoanuts aren’t worth having.

Don’t waste your money buying the DVD of this one folks. Do what I did, and wait for it to come on television again.