When not living it up on the beaches of Miami, Terry "Hulk" Hogan and Chris Lemmon travel the globe in their superboat Thunder battling drug lords and other nefarious bad guys. Lots of stuff blows up, models in bikinis run all over the place, and the Hulkster occasionally knocks villains out by using other villains' feet to kick them. You can easily see why "Thunder in Paradise" is the greatest thing ever.
Well, OK, it's the greatest thing ever for folks like me who get all giggly at the idea of Hulk Hogan (!) teaming up with Chris Lemmon (!!) as best pal ex-Navy SEALs who fight crime. It's two hundred fifty pounds of awful crammed into two-twenty capacity wrestling tights. It's 1990s television for action fans who can't handle the subtle nuances of "Baywatch Nights." It's stupid, sexist, and embarrassing, but oh, how much fun it is.
"Thunder in Paradise" began life in 1993 as a tongue-slightly-in-cheek direct-to-video action-comedy cheapie that also served as a pilot movie for a syndicated TV series. That series lasted for one season, running from May through November 1994; a couple of two-parters were then re-edited into movie form to be released on videos as sequels labeled "II" and "3," apparently because the producers don't do Roman numerals for odd numbers. (Also: The credits for both sequels list Brit TV icon Patrick Macnee, who popped in the series from time to time, as a co-star even though he's nowhere to be seen in the movie versions. Whoops.)
In the first movie, R.J. "Hurricane" Spencer (the Hulkster) and Martin "Bru" Brubaker (the Lemmonster) have put their bank accounts on the line to build Thunder, their dream speedboat that's decked out with guns, missile launchers, shields, and stealth capabilities, all run by a state-of-the-art computer system. It's never fully explained how they will make back their money through a business that involves randomly going off to fight crime, but if Hulk Hogan says it's true, then you know it's true, brother.
For reasons far too ridiculous to recap here, Hurricane is suckered into a phony marriage to Megan Whitaker (Felicity Waterman), daughter of a local hotel magnate (Macnee) and mother to Jessica (Robin Wiseman, who played the kid in "Three Men and a Little Lady"), who is unquestionably the world's most annoying child. Jessica and Hurricane are best pals (because hey, making Hulk look good with kids is a hat-tip for the fans), and she takes to calling him "dad" the second the fake engagement is set.
The world's greatest bad guy (Sam J. Jones of "Flash Gordon" immortality) turns up looking for a necklace that Hurricane found in the belly of a shark and immediately gave to the kid. (Girls love jewelry that's been through the digestive systems of killer fish.) The necklace, you see, is also a map to some hidden treasure, and so Hurricane, Bru, and their lovely bartender friend Kelly LaRue (Carol Alt) go off in search of the loot (because taking stolen treasure is alright as long as you're not the one doing the original stealing). Meanwhile, Flash Gordon kidnaps the obnoxious girl and her obnoxious mom. Rescuing them requires lots of things blowing up.
I'm not sure what's the best part of this one. After all, we get the sight of Brutus "The Barber" Beefcake in the world's phoniest fake beard; Charlotte "Mrs. Garrett" Rae as Macnee's wife; Chris Lemmon repeatedly taking off his shirt in a series of uncomfortable displays of attempted machismo; line readings that would make the cast of a Uwe Boll movie look competent; and the most absurd action sequences (aided by painfully bad special effects) designed to support the Stunt Performers Who Jump Off Things As They're Blowing Up Union.
But me, my pick would be the theme song, "Kissed By a Hurricane," which sounds like either the theme to a terrible 1980s action cartoon or to a commercial advertising toys of the characters from said cartoon. Given the goings-on in this series, this is quite appropriate. The song was sadly abandoned for the series, meaning that here's your only chance to rocks the house with bitchin' lyrics such as:
Thunder in paradise!
Lightning striking twice!
Mess with thunder and you pay the price!
Oh, that's just solid gold.
The first thing you need to know before moving on to "Thunder in Paradise II," reworked from the two-part "Sealed With a Kismet" episode of the show and released on home video in 1994, is that the role of Jessica was recast with child actor Ashley Gorrell (who would turn up a couple years later on, of all things, "Baywatch"), and that the mother character was written off the show, apparently killed in a car wreck in England in between episodes. (Mrs. Garrett also disappeared from the series.) This is important because going from the first movie to the second, you may be wondering who this new kid is, and why she keeps calling Hulk Hogan "dad," and why nobody seems to say anything about it. So there you go.
"Thunder in Paradise II" is the most idiotic of the franchise, which is quite the accomplishment. Kelly's been having dreams of a handsome, Fabio-haircut-wearin' Arabian prince (Carlos Lauchu), and when the prince arrives in Miami and finds Kelly, they call it destiny, him sweeping her away to the studio backlot they're passing off as his native land. But it's all a trap - Kelly's really been kidnapped and is "given" to a rival of the prince. If only a couple of ex-Navy SEALs had some kick-ass boat they could use in some sort of rescue mission.
Meanwhile, Jessica has been having nightmares about Hurricane and Bru dying while trying to rescue Kelly, and if Kelly's dream came true, surely the girl's will, too, right?
The highlight of this episode/movie comes in a fantasy sequence that finds Bru dreaming up a harem. It's a scene that drags on beyond any reasonable length, all so we can ogle at the scantily clad beauties. Watching them manhandle Chris Lemmon is icky to an extreme, while the gratuitousness of the whole thing borders on softcore porn.
Oh, and Brutus "The Barber" Beefcake returns as another guy in a fake beard.
I am sad to report that neither Brutus "The Barber" Beefcake nor his fake beard is in "Thunder in Paradise 3" We do, however, get more from Jimmy Hart, because if this franchise is nothing else, it's a quick paycheck for a few of Hogan's old Rock N' Wrestling buddies. Hart here gets the prize spot, performing the movie's opening song, a dreadful white-guy-reggae ditty about how "the girls really turn him on;" the chorus is the sort of pathological repetition of a single fact that suggests perhaps someone is a bit desperate to reassert his heterosexuality. Either that, or Jimmy Hart just isn't very good with lyrics.
Dumped onto video store shelves in 1995, "Thunder in Paradise 3" comes to us from the two-part "Deadly Lessons" episode, in which Hurricane and Bru arrest a South American drug lord, only to have his henchmen (led by B action flick vet Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) invade Jessica's art school and take hostages in retaliation. Without giving too much away, I will announce that the 'splosion at film's end is arguably the most gratuitous 'spolosion I've ever seen in a movie – and I've seen a whole lot of gratuitous 'splosions.
For Emmy consideration, we also get a subplot in which Bru tries to get shy Alison (Heidi) to become a swimsuit model, although Kelly disapproves because, you see, her sister went to New York to become a model and got hooked on the drugs. (A highlight: Kelly denounces anyone who would trade in illicit substances while pouring booze for a bunch of Spring Breakers.)
Stuff blows up. Hulk Hogan punches people. Chris Lemmon puts on a fake beard. Hulk Hogan kicks people. Everyone loves the boat. Hulk Hogan calls Chris Lemmon "brother" all the time. Life is good.
Lionsgate has collected all three movies on three discs for the "Thunder in Paradise Collection." All titles are in their direct-to-video movie versions, which were edited fairly seamlessly - no commercial fades-to-black are present. The three DVDs come in a clunky double-wide keep case with two discs placed in a two-sided hinged holder.
Well, these puppies were made on the cheap in the mid-90s, and it shows. The first movie shows quite a lot of grain and softness; the other two look cleaner, but only a little. It looks pretty much what you'd expect a low budget TV project from the era to look like. Presented in the original 1.33:1 broadcast format.
Rock out with a stereo soundtrack that lets you hear every blow up, punch, and bad Jimmy Hart vocal. No subtitles are included.
Look, if you've made it this far, you're obviously part of the movie-watching minority for whom crap like this was made. I would normally grade something this awful pretty low, but c'mon. If you're like me, you know you don't care if it sucks, and you don't care about the iffy video quality, and you might not even care about the bare bones presentation. You just want to laugh at Hulk Hogan and Chris Lemmon as they run around the MGM and EPCOT theme parks (yup, that's where they filmed all of this!) pretending to kick ass. The relatively low price (comes to about $5-7 per movie) lends this package some bang for the buck. Recommended to anyone who grins at the mere idea of a "Thunder in Paradise" box set, knowing it might provide the makings for a fun night of making fun of crappy action. Those not so fond of Bad Movie fun, meanwhile, should obviously Skip It. Because hey, you mess with thunder, you pay the price.