Last year, I convinced my mother to “let me just peek” in the video rental store located in her sleepy little mountain town. She had never been with me on one of my video rental “raids” so, she was a little concerned 15 minutes later when I hadn't returned to the neighboring coffee shop. She found me shortly thereafter, sitting in the floor of Movie Time Video in front of 6 racks, surrounded by stacks of “10 for $5” VHS. Despite several minutes of protesting on her part and the painstaking 15 minute check-out by a lady with half as many teeth, I left with several grocery bags full of happiness. It was then that I added “The Naked Man” to a still-growing VHS collection.
Today's game of VHS roulette brought “The Naked Man” back to the limelight and, true to the box, it did not disappoint. Not many movies could combine underground wrestling, holistic medicine, chiropractics, Elvis, a physically-challenged drug kingpin, bikers, deadpan detectives and plane propellers in a way that makes perfect sense.
Poor little Eddie Bliss Jr. falls victim to one of the most serious ailments facing youngsters in the late 1990s – his mom dressed him like a pussy and the other kids beat the shit out of him. So what else would you have done, being said youngster in said decade? Who could you turn to? What could help make you not such a pussy? Luckily, little Eddie Bliss Jr. had a library card and it was here he found the answer to his woes – wrasslin'.
Spending so much time participating in the greatest of Grecian sports – you know, rolling around with another man, getting all sweaty, grunting a lot - naturally led little Eddie to explore more of the lifestyles of the ancient Greeks. I speak of course of their holistic approach to the human body. Despite his pharmacist fathers' outright damning of America's truer past-time, little Eddie suffered through years of grueling exercise montage. This landed him the opportunity of a lifetime - a wrestling scholarship to a Chiropractic college. Jaded by his father's disapproval, as it has happened innumerable times before, he leaves his little hick town behind to pursue both of his dreams.
Luckily, on down the road, he knocks up one of those real pretty girls who is totally supportive of her interesting boyfriend's hobbies until she gets that second line of doom. Hence, the end of Eddie's illustrious career as the Naked Man – his main outlet for all the emotional dysfunction he would have obviously developed having been given wedgies by a fat kid wearing a shirt with a silhouetted middle finger and flannel, yeah, THAT kid. Eddie, now in his 30s, with a kid on the way, (I mean, hey, his life is over now anyway, right....) returns to that little hick town to open up his own Chiropractic practice, right across from his father's pharmacy.
Shortly after a heart-warming reunion with his father and introduction of his knocked up wife to both of his parents, Eddie leaves the pharmacy for a quick errand. Oh, Eddie, if only you had stayed! Well, if he had stayed, he would be pushing up daisies like the rest of his family, what a boring movie that would have been.
Upon his departure, Eddie runs into (literally) The Driver (John Caroll Lynch) and Sticks Verona (Michael Jeter) – the aforementioned Elvis and physically-challenged drug kingpin. The two men settle into Bliss Pharmacy. They enjoy such a delicious banana split you see, so much so that Sticks decides to make them an offer they can't refuse. Since “you can't get any older than dead” and you certainly get a whole lot of dead from crutches that double as shotguns - or maybe they're shotguns that double as crutches....either way, they're bad ass – most of the Bliss family eats it. Poor Eddie, having arrived too late to acquire the X-Ray machine he set out after, then having locked himself out of his running car, walks back to town – only to find the body bags being zipped up.
This would be enough to ruin a man of lesser character, but not dear ol' Eddie. He picks himself up, steals a cop car (and a very stylish hat) and returns to the ring – re-enter the Naked Man!!! This isn't the Naked Man we all have grown to love though – this is a Naked Man on a mission! Luckily for all of us, this mission begins with a 30-man battle royal. After disposing of every wrestler at Sammy's Sport Shows, Eddie takes the mic, delivering quite a heartfelt speech to a gym full of confused wrestling fans about spinal-sacral alignment and the plight of the human race that stems from a misaligned spine. Such a prophecy left only empty folding chairs and battered wrestlers.
Disturbing the peace at this magnitude of course requires the involvement of deadpan detective duo Koski (Joe Grifasi) and Burns (John Slattery). These two have their roles down pretty well, they even get a Gumby joke in there.
Like so many of us in the throws of a psychological break, Eddie winds up at a biker bar. Nothing compliments an individual's descent into madness like shooting pool, air heavy with stale cigarette smoke, and guys with names like Mountain. Besides, where else could Rachael Leigh Cook make her leather-clad entrance? Dolores (Cook) was present for his Yin V. Yang post-wrestle'pocalypse speech and is wholly enamored. She and the Dali-Naked Man cruise on out, leaving in their wake a plethora of broken pool cues and shoddy chalk outlines. A night spent toasting marshmallows leads to a few weak memory sequences followed by an early morning of proper campfire extinguishing and hitting the open road.
It's on this “know it when I get there” stolen motorcycle trek that Naked Man passes Puffy's Drug Outlet. Wherein, Eddie learns one of life's most truest truths – the best front for an illegal drug trafficking ring is a drug store.
It's time for a little consumer investigating, and ass-kicking. Naked Man works his way to the top of the operation rather quickly. I mean, there's just 3 thugs, an old dude and an incarnation of Porky Pig in human form standing in his way. Dispersing the lower ranks so easily only sets Eddie up to get a needle of drugs in the ass. Now, it is hard to distinguish just what type of drugs are in that needle based on the scenes that follow, but there's at least a HINT of sign-over-your-inheritance-inol in there. Having so thoroughly eliminated the threat Bliss Sr. and wife posed having their quaint little pharmacy, all that was left was to acquire from their sole heir the rights to their property and business.
His John Hancock secured, poor Naked Man is shipped off to the mental institution no one could have seen coming. Followed shortly thereafter by the Dolores-assisted breakout no one saw coming.
All of this leads up to the big pay off – the drug deal gone horribly awesome. Turning the lone guard on duty at the airfield into a pretzel was nothing compared to what is about to go down.
Assuming he has endured years of a very serious drug habit, the Driver is obviously no match for the mental gymnastics the Naked Man unleashes. This basically entails an arms-length struggle ending in the Driver accepting his new “very important work” as an honorary narcotics officer. Time to make our way with a revolver out onto the airstrip to shoot a few dudes that are unloading a plane full of drugs.
BUT WAIT, that plane full of drugs still has it's PROPELLERS on!!! Thence, we witness the best scene in the whole movie. It's one of those scenes where you think to yourself “Ohhh....THAT'S where the budget for most of the movie went”. It's short, but it's rewarding regardless. What follows is an exercise is stupidity even for this movie. After a “riveting” final confrontation with his wheelchair-bound nemesis, Naked Man delivers a Spina Bifida curing adjustment to Sticks Verona on the tarmac in the company of our two favorite detectives. If he had spent more time running away instead of taunting a man in an anatomically correct full-body leotard and two cops with their guns drawn, Sticks may have made it out a little more “alive-ish”. This, coupled with news that his wife survived the showdown at the Bliss Pharmacy Corral, brings our hero's ass-kicking spree to an end.
It's one of those movies I know I can't recommend to just anyone. I don't want to hear “this is stupid, can we please watch something else” when I put this on. It's one that I save for those few people I know will really appreciate it. Those people I know will agree with me and join in when I proclaim, “Naked Man...You're the man!”