10/6/08

RVOD035 The Incredible Hulk: The Final Round

(1978, Action-Superhero/Television, color)

Riffers:

Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett, and Kevin Murphy

It’s like Hamlet, only stupid.

Rating: ***1/2

In a nutshell:

The Incredible Hulk mixed with Rocky and just a dash of On the Waterfront, only stupid.

Summary:

How would you rate this on a scale of Bill Corbett to Lou Ferrigno.Brilliant scientist, wrongfully accused fugitive and occasional Hulk David Banner (Bill Bixby) arrives in town and immediately runs afoul of a wholesome and racially diverse gang of muggers. They steal his wallet while beating him gently, but before Banner can transform into his big green alter ego, he’s rescued by an animate lump of boxing stereotypes named (groan) Rocky.

Rocky speaks mostly in quotes from On the Waterfront. Or, he would if he weren’t so “unquenchably stupid” (Bill’s description). In practice, he repeats On the Waterfront’s most famous line over and over again while doing an unconvincing impression of Sylvester Stallone with brain damage. More brain damage, I mean.

Rocky takes Banner back to his apartment where they laugh together while nursing each other’s bruises, talking about boys and braiding each other’s hair, except for the part about the boys and the hair. Soon Rocky has gotten Banner a job as a physical therapist at the local boxing gym. At this point Banner discovers three things about his good-hearted but phenomenally stupid newfound friend. 1) He’s a really crappy boxer. 2) His coach knows this but trains him for free in exchange for his services as a Shady Package Delivery Boy. 3) He’s an auto repair savant who’s been offered a mechanic job by the brother of his longsuffering girlfriend.

Now that the course for the rest of the episode has been unalterably fixed, we push right into the first appearance of The Incredible Hulk. The suspicious Banner tails Rocky while the latter makes another shady delivery with all the cheerful ignorance he can muster. Having gathered reinforcements, the wholesome thugs of the opening scene return for revenge; they lay into our heroes until Bill Bixby finally turns green and morphs into Lou Ferrigno. Thug-tossing, garbage can-crumpling, brick wall-demolishing hijinks ensue. In the midst of the mayhem, Hulk steps on Rocky’s sack of “bandages”, revealing it to be full of heroin.

Before the advent of CGI, studios had to hire actors who were naturally freakish.Rather than do something sensible (like going straight to the cops) Rocky gathers up the crushed package of tainted smack and returns to his coach. Rocky loves his coach and says he won’t turn him in if he promises to give up drug dealing forever. Coach agrees and thanks him by setting up the boxing match with a real boxer that Rocky has always wanted. As soon as Rocky’s out of the room, the coach conspires with his cronies to spike Rocky’s ringside water bottle with a compound that will aggravate the ersatz boxer’s high blood pressure. This will send his blood pressure so high that the physical strain of the match will give him a heart attack.

By this time, Banner has de-Hulked and returned to listen to their evil plot from behind a door. When the coach and his co-conspirators leave, Banner sneaks in to steal the heart attack juice and replace it with something harmless, but coach comes back in at a crucial moment and discovers him. Coach’s enforcers knock Banner out before he can Hulk up again. People are already arriving for the fight—in Incredible Hulk-land, I guess deciding you’re going to have a boxing match is the same as organizing and promoting one for many weeks—so the hurried enforcers hide Banner’s bound and unconscious body in a professional wrestler’s steel cage and hoist it over the ring.

An unbelievably short time later, the ring is surrounded by a sold-out crowd of thousands, all of whom apparently showed up on a moment’s notice to see a modestly popular local beat up a guy they’ve never heard of. Rocky gets pounded for the first round and a half while Coach’s cronies feed him heart attack water. Before it can completely take effect, Banner inevitably wakes up, and just as inevitably gets upset by the spectacle below him. He turns huge and green, dropping into the ring to separate the fighters, beat up the referee, and then chase the coach and his cronies out of the arena before thrashing them within an inch of their lives.

Knowing that his Hulk-ish antics won’t have gone unnoticed, Banner decides to move on. But not before he sees Rocky into the arms of his longsuffering girlfriend, and into a lifetime of auto mechanic drudgery at his longsuffering girlfriend’s brother’s garage.

Thoughts:

So is Bill Bixby equivalent to Bill Corbet, or vice versa?If the above summary hadn’t already convinced you of this, let me state it clearly now: This episode of The Incredible Hulk is a shameless and deliberate rip-off of every boxing movie ever made, up to and including the ones that hadn’t been made yet. Other adjectives that come to mind include “moronic” and “hamfisted”. Also: “cheerful”, so it’s hard to get angry at it. The Final Round is impressively dumb, but in an endearing way. It means to be stupid, and by that measure it is a success, albeit a huge green success that smashes through brick walls for no apparent reason.

This makes it perfect for Rifftrax treatment, and Mike, Bill and Kevin do not disappoint. When Rocky’s friendly manner endears him to his neighbors and fellow boxers, Bill says, “Fake Rocky is the hero of Fake Street in Faketown, U.S.A.” During the incredibly contrived caging scene, Kevin provokes groans from his co-riffers with, “Someone hoisted a Banner over the ring.” As the boxing match drags on, Mike calls it, “A lethal combination of grab-ass and patty-cake.” This great Rifftrax of a fun television episode is available for free to residents of the United States with decent broadband connections... or, it was until it's popularity crashed its server of origin. Thankfully, the commentary has recently been made available for sale as a regular Rifftrax. The free streaming version may or may not become available again at some point in the future.