Written By Zak Attack
A dramatic journey through the dreck we all know and love
Why Did I Watch This?
How Did I Watch It?
Important to note: It seems that Schwarzenegger’s voice was so hard to understand that they dubbed over it in the theatrical release. Luckily someone got their hands on a version with the original soundtrack, so we got to to listen to the big man’s real voice in all of its “Wait, what did he say?” glory.
What Did I Watch?
We at Action A Go Go are hyper aware of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s indelible mark on society. Just look at how we quantify ratings on our film reviews. As the world’s most bankable movie star for over 10 years, the thickly accented Austrian brought an intensely odd charm to his cheeseball action roles. Most of us grew up already knowing that he was one of the biggest draws in entertainment, so it pays to take a step back and ponder exactly how incredibly strange it is that this giant of a man who could barely act took Hollywood by storm. Unfortunately, seeing Hercules in New York doesn’t help answer this question at all. It’s a wonder to see how his lack of poise on screen evolved into the self-assured celebrity we have grown to idolize.
Just like Why Did I Watch This’ previous entry, Suburban Commando, Hercules in New York is a fish-out-of-water “comedy” about a stuntcasted non-actor portraying an ungodly strong, childlike man dealing with the foibles of modern society. The film is overly silly, anti-climactic, unfunny, and has virtually no real plot… also just like Suburban Commando.
As far as I could make out, Hercules (Arnie, credited as “Arnold Strong”) is tired of hanging out on Mt. Olympus and just wants to go to Earth for the hell of it. Presumably he’s becoming bored because the filming location for Mt. Olympus is clearly the botanical garden of some city. However, this upsets his father, Zeus, who refuses to grant his son’s request. Hercules goes anyway and befriends a perpetually drunk pretzel vendor, appropriately named “Pretzie” (played by the similarly named Arnold Stang). Our hero starts challenging random track and field teams to feats of strength and, in the process, catches the attention of a nearby college professor and the romantic interest of the professor’s wide-eyed daughter.
Back on Olympus, Zeus is getting upset at his son’s untimely disappearance so he dispatches a villainess named Nemesis to try and get him back. She enlists the aid of the dapper Pluto (bonus points for noticing that this is the fourth out of our four Hercules films that manages to conflate Greek and Roman mythology) to depower the half-god to make him more manageable.
Hercules, in the meantime, has been wrestling professionally in order to make money. The timing of the malicious depowering is purposefully aligned so that he unexpectedly loses his “match”. It’s not explained why the organized crime syndicates of New York have such a heavy presence in these amateur “wrestling matches” (which are aparrently just weightlifting competitions inexplicably televised on NY1), but the mob comes down hard on him when he loses. This leads to a lengthy, on-location chariot/car race that seemingly ate up over half the film’s entire budget. We are told that the mob is angry because of something about gambling… yet there is so little detail to the conflict, I get the impression the screenwriter thinks “odds” are just what you call the eccentric neighbors up the street.
I mentioned before that I wouldn’t try to read these Hercules Month films as a mythology buff. With each movie I have tried to ignore the many inconsistencies with the Hercules source material. However, in this one, the filmmakers willfully threw away even basic common knowledge about Greek mythology. Nearly all of the mythological characters are portrayed falsely and it’s enough to pull anyone out of the movie. Apparently every single one of the gods can fly, but never use this skill outside of the trek from Olympus to New York City. When Mercury goes down to talk to Hercules, he flies on down but doesn’t even attempt to run fast at any point. At one point, The Bible’s Samson shows up! When he attempts to lend Herc a hand with his super strength it doesn’t take the most astute viewer to notice they didn’t even cast a long-haired actor.
The film is so bad that at times it’s downright boring. For example: the standout scene of a random fight he has with an escaped bear isn’t even the most laughably terrible bear fight in a Hercules movie! That honor would have to go to last week’s Hercules starring Lou Ferrigno.
In addition to his thick accent, it is clear that Schwarzenegger wasn’t quite ready for a leading role on the silver screen. He’s awkward and emotionless in his performance as he stares straight ahead and stiffly recites his dialogue. In fact, he doesn’t quite “act” as much as just stumble through line readings. If you’re at all familiar with his mannerisms you know the comedic potential of that sort of situation.
To that point, I may have said above that Hercules in New York is “so bad it’s kind of boring”, but that’s only half true. In the right situation, the movie is also so bad it’s kind of hilarious. What can I say? At the end of the day, the movie is just plain goofy. To give you an idea, here’s a list of the “toastworthy moments” we had to go by for the corresponding drinking game.
- Someone talks about mythology
- Arnie says something unintelligible
- A feat of strength
- Hercules manhandles someone
- Arnie says “I am Hercules”
- Hercules is amazed by modern technology
- Pretzie acts surprised by something
To build off that last “toastworthy moment”, I will mention that most of the intentional humor comes from the wacky, over-the-top performance of Arnold Stang as Pretzie. He’s a broad caricature even by comic relief standards, but there is also something darker to the broke weirdo who is drunk throughout much of the movie. Those with a penchant for black comedy (myself included) may find that laughing at the pathetic shell of a man who sells pretzels down by the docks is one of the movie’s few pleasures.
That being said, a substantial amount of the “jokes” don’t actually come from what’s on the screen, but instead from the people you watch it with. If not for the Twitter feed scrolling next to the movie, I’m not sure how many people (including myself) would have made it through the whole thing. Even the simple comment along the lines of “Wait. Why the hell did that just happen?” or “That’s a terrible bear costume!” is good enough to elicit laughs. The film’s simply so incomprehensible that it’s almost too easy to make fun of.
Plain and simple: it was really easy to lose interest about halfway through. Remember the conflict I mentioned where Nemesis depowers Hercules and some gangsters attack him? That happens with maybe 15 minutes left in the movie. Before that scene there is no clear villain, no conflict, and no plot. When there finally is something for Hercules to overcome, it’s resolved with one of the most anti-climactic scenes I’ve ever witnessed: After the gangsters chase him to a warehouse, Zeus gives Hercules his strength back (symbolized by stock footage of lightning striking) so he will be strong enough to push some storage containers over. That’s it. It then immediately cuts from the warehouse to Hercules on the Empire State Building getting ready to go back to Olympus. I guess he pushed the containers down on all the mobsters and defeated them? The direction is just downright atrocious.
Another example of the director’s (Arther Allan Seidelman) inept use of the motion picture medium is when Hercules decides to challenge the track and field team to feats of strength. It plays out as follows:
- Hercules faces off with the track coach and claims he will beat anyone in Olympic game-style events
- Student does an incredibly unimpressive long jump in one take
- Cut to: Hercules taking off his shirt and warming up
- Hercules starts to run and the audience sees him jump
- Cut to: Characters responding as if he jumped really far
- Cut to: A close-up of Hercules’ feet hitting the ground
At no point does the camera provide any context as to how far Hercules jumped in comparison to the student athlete. We just know that it was farther because it is said outright by the characters. Hercules in New York fails at even the most basic level of cinematic language.
Was It Worth Watching?
In a typical situation: nope.
To be fair, it’s a goofy b-comedy. It’s nothing more, nothing less. It might be strange, cartoonish, and stupid, but that’s the type of movie that the filmmakers set out to make. The real question is, “On that level, is it actually entertaining to a reasonable audience?” The answer to that is still “no”. At times it’s funny, but it’s mostly just flat and dull.
However, that doesn’t mean it can’t be entertaining. As is often the case with the movies I’ve reviewed here, if you’re going to watch, you’re going to need a lot of beer and a lot of funny friends (thanks, Wasted Cinema).
But I guess I should include the bear fight regardless:
Regrettably he doesn’t fight any more bears, but Hercules will still be going strong next week in the last entry into of Why Did I Watch This’ HERCULES MONTH!
Hercules Month Part 1: The Loves of Hercules
Hercules Month Part 2: Hercules / The Adventures of Hercules
Hercules Month Part 3: You just read it!
Hercules Month Part 4: The Legend of Hercules
Zak has been an avid movie fan since his mom made him cover his eyes before the “icicle stabbing” when they rented Die Hard 2 in 2nd grade. As a consolation, in 6th grade he got straight A’s so she gave him the entire Die Hard trilogy on VHS. The rest is history.
All images courtesy of Trimark Pictures