It's movies like "Santa With Muscles" that make movies like "Jingle All the Way" look better.
A violent slapstick comedy replete with lame gags, poor puns and technical work that screams "straight to video," this is the sort of movie that will have parents wondering what's playing in the next auditorium . . . and whether the kids will be OK for awhile if they slip over there.
Hulk Hogan, who makes Arnold Schwarzenegger seem like Laurence Olivier, stars in this kiddie picture as an eccentric (what else?) billionaire who gets hit on the head and thinks he's the real Santa Claus.
Set in a small Southern California town during the Christmas holidays, "Santa With Muscles" casts the Hulkster as this film's version of Ebenezer Scrooge, a mean-spirited, childish, self-indulgent, self-made man named Blake Thorne.
Thorne's fortune has come from a line of health-food products - the kind of gruel and flake-filled drinks that make movie snack-bar nachos seem almost appetizing.
And he spends most of his time beating up on his servants, which include an Asian chauffeur and a French chef. For "exercise," they sneak up on Thorne in the same way Kato attacks Inspector Clouseau in the "Pink Panther" pictures.
Then Thorne dresses up in khakis, and they all go out on elaborate wartime maneuvers, exchanging paint-ball fire with another team of khaki-clad players. In the process they also terrorize local police (portrayed as a bunch of bumbling, ineffectual goofballs, led by comic actor Clint Howard, brother of Ron).
To escape the cops, Thorne hides in a shopping mall, disguising himself with a Santa costume he stumbles upon. But when he gets conked on the head, he wakes up believing himself to be the real Mr. Claus - complete with a change of heart.
Meanwhile, nasty Ebner Frost, a bizarre scientist who has a Howard Hughes-like phobia about germs (Ed Begley Jr.), is buying up real estate with an evil secret plot in mind. And the last bit of property he wants is an orphanage, run by feisty Leslie (Robin Curtis).
Naturally, Thorne-Santa finds himself staying at the orphanage - along with his sidekick, a crook named Lenny who dresses as an elf (Dan Stark) - and he helps Leslie, orphanage caretaker Clayton (Garrett Morris) and the only three remaining children (Adam Wylie, Aria Noelle Curzon, Mila Kunis) do battle with Frost and his evil cohorts.
There are lots of pratfalls, car chases and car crashes, along with overplayed mugging, a few elaborate stunts and some low-rent special effects. But none of it is particularly inspired, and all of it is embarrassingly broad and silly.
Hogan's efforts to make a holiday-message movie for children is perhaps a noble gesture, but the film is far too lame to attract an audience of any size - especially with competition from Schwarzenegger and Glenn Close's Cruella DeVil.
Worse, however, is the message, which seems to be that beating people up is the way to solve your problems.
In the world of wrestling, perhaps - but in real life, it's not the wisest suggestion for impressionable children.
"Santa With Muscles" is rated PG, although it does contain considerable slapstick violence.