Glommed together for air a mere six months after the title character’s improbable election as governor of Minnesota, “The Jesse Ventura Story” looks every ounce the rush job it is. In charting the surrealistic rise of the one-time bad-guy professional wrestler from body slams to the body politic, NBC has seemingly deluded itself into believing that it has uncovered a new way to present political programming. Just toss it into a ring with a bunch of preening glandular cases and watch those ratings soar.
Does this count toward NBC’s public affairs commitment? Let’s hope not.
Swathed in pile drivers, half nelsons and choke holds, “Jesse Ventura” is so breathtakingly dreadful that you’d swear the parody must be intentional. Or were scribes Donald Reiker and Patricia Jones simply struggling to make the point that the prerequisites for holding higher office in the new millennium include wearing precisely the right ostrich-feather headdress and an ability to take a dive on cue?
The first half of “The Jesse Ventura Story” could just as easily be called, “We Wrestle, Therefore We Deceive.” The film’s only genuine asset is its edgy and sharply packaged wrestling footage from lensman John Holosko, helmer David S. Jackson and consultant-choreographer Chris Kanyon.
Throughout, the emphasis falls on the staged mayhem of the “sport” as combatants are instructed to win, lose or simply infuriate the crowd by behaving like untreated mental patients.
Trite, simplistic teleplay races through the formative years of Ventura (Nils Allen Stewart), touching on his strained relationship with his father without lending any emotional depth, and racing through his years as a Navy SEAL, a nightclub bouncer, a bodyguard, a pro wrestler and finally a talkradio shock jock. “The Body” then meets and marries Terry (Nancy Sakovich) in what has to be TV’s speediest courtship from “Hello” to “I do”: a scant 85 seconds.
Yet because “Jesse Ventura’s” target demo is only slightly more intellectually inclined than a herd of buffalo, Reiker and Jones enlist Stewart (portraying the gubernatorial-era Ventura) to narrate his Horatio Alger tale onscreen in a gimmick that grows increasingly absurd.
By the time the movie starts to document Ventura’s political life — culminating in his shocking victory last November as Minnesota’s Reform Party candidate for governor — you start seeing his story less as an inspiring triumph of the little guy and more as confirmation that electing this dopey lug proves Minnesotans have lost touch with their senses.
Ventura on the campaign trail: “I believe that the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin are two of the greatest rock bands ever!”
So pathologically sloppy is “The Jesse Ventura Story” that during a mock “Today” show appearance in 1990, Ventura (as portrayed by Stewart) addresses his interviewer here as “Brian” rather than “Bryant” Gumbel.
None of the magic that fueled the real Ventura’s ascension to the governor’s chair is on display, but director Jackson was no doubt told not to worry about that. “Jesse Ventura” is merely a lamely conceived, painfully wrought excuse to toss a ream of wrestling footage into the May mix.
Fiasco or no, the film almost can’t help but kick some major sweeps butt. Never underestimate the ratings potency of Must Seethe TV.