Doc about former TV “Incredible Hulk” Lou Ferrigno’s return to competitive bodybuilding after a 19-year absence aims for a standard, admiring portrait of the athlete that probably won’t stir much interest outside sports webs. Much reference is made here to the 1977 “Pumping Iron,” which helped launch showbiz careers for Ferrigno and Arnold Schwarzenegger, but bodybuilding isn’t the novelty it was back then. Pic’s pro but routine, uncritical handling is unlikely to pull a similar crossover-appeal trick.
Questioned in some circles for its air of manipulated drama, “Pumping Iron” trained focus on Mr. Olympia competitors Lou and Arnold — latter walking away with both title and film’s more flattering personality sketch. That double whammy prodded Ferrigno toward leaving the field, partly also to escape the shadow of his controlling, unsupportive Brooklyn father. He took on the hit “Hulk” series in 1978, settling down with Southern Californian wife and kids. But the bug to grab that elusive Olympia prize never quite went away, so at age 43 the six-foot-five behemoth goes back into major training for a Masters of Olympia pose-and-flex-fest against other aged but still-beefy “legendary” past champs.
Ferrigno lost most of his hearing as an ear-infected infant (his speech remains a tad muzzy), then took up muscle-building as a classic “different” kid’s revenge. He’s affable, but director Mark Nalley doesn’t go for much psychological depth here, choosing instead to center on training and the eventual Atlanta competition.
Secondary focus is on 48-year-old East Coaster Boyer Coe, whose rather overbearing self-regard and catty comments about “Louie” provide less-sympathetic counterpoint. This drama is built upon in only cursory fashion — the two never get together on-camera, and unlucky fate has Masters title going to a third contender, Robbie Robinson.
Philosophical insights from various musclemen and scenesters seldom run beyond “Be the best you can be.” Those who find bodybuilding a rather dubious sport won’t be won over by many comments like interviewee Schwarzenegger’s “The idea of competing is to show the world you’re No. 1.” At least Ferrigno appears pretty easygoing, devoted to friends and family in a milieu where the slightest non-body focus seems equated with “loser” weakness.
Progress would have been more engrossing if archival materials had included footage from “Pumping Iron,” which clearly still looms large in bodybuilding history. Tech package is OK, routine music adding to a TV feel