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The Jesse Ventura Story

"The Jesse Ventura Story" is to TV biopics what pickle-and-pimento loaf is to gourmet dining. On second thought, that's a cheap shot at pickle-and-pimento loaf. Glommed together for air a mere six months after the title character's improbable election as governor of Minnesota, it looks every ounce the rush job it is. In charting the surrealistic rise of the onetime bad-guy professional wrestler from body slams to the body politic, NBC seemingly has 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.

“The Jesse Ventura Story” is to TV biopics what pickle-and-pimento loaf is to gourmet dining. On second thought, that’s a cheap shot at pickle-and-pimento loaf. Glommed together for air a mere six months after the title character’s improbable election as governor of Minnesota, it looks every ounce the rush job it is. In charting the surrealistic rise of the onetime bad-guy professional wrestler from body slams to the body politic, NBC seemingly has 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 Ventura’s (Nils Allen Stewart) formative years, 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 talk radio shock jock. “The Body” then meets and marries wife 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 that culminated in last November’s shocking victory as Minnesota’s Reform Party candidate for governor, you start seeing this 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!” Hey, if that doesn’t make you want to install the guy in the state capital, you must be one of them polka lovers or something.

So pathologically sloppy is “The Jesse Ventura Story” that during a mock “Today” show appearance in 1990, Ventura (as portrayed by Stewart) clearly 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.

The Jesse Ventura Story

(BIOPIC; NBC, SUN. MAY 23, 9 P.M.)

  • Production: Filmed in Toronto by Davis Entertainment in association with NBC Studios. Executive producers, John Davis, Bruce Sallan; producer, Jim Chory; director, David S. Jackson; writers, Patricia Jones, Donald Reiker.
  • Crew: Camera, John Holosko; production designer, Ed Hanna; art director, Jayne Couch; editor, Adam Wolfe; music, Richard Gibbs; sound, Richard Penn; casting, Nelleke Privett, Glicksman/Orenstein Casting. 120 MIN.
  • With: Jesse Ventura.....Nils Allen Stewart Terry Ventura.....Nancy Sakovich George "Sneakers" Janos.....Christopher Bondy Bernice Janos.....Nola Augustson Teen Tyrell.....Jeff Mallory Teen Jesse.....Thomas Brandise Dean.....Jonathan Potts Chaney.....Elias Zarou Captain Nice.....Bobby Johnston Norm Coleman.....Dwight McFee Skip Humphrey.....David Huband Non Com.....Phillip Jarrett With: Michael Ruperco, Kevin Rushton, Tommy Dorian, Goldberg, Raven, Chris Kanyon.
  • Music By: