At least a decade before organized mixed martial arts provided a platform to answer questions such as “who would win in a fight between a kickboxer and a really overweight sumo wrestler?” a somewhat obscure 1985 film from West Germany sought to provide clarity to a similar proposition, with a slight sartorial spin. (“Who would win in a fight: a guy with mustache in a fur-collar leather jacket, or a tall dude with a mullet in leather pants and a white scarf?”) MACHO MAN puts real-life boxer, Rene Weller, and karate expert, Peter Althof, in a tiny wardrobe closet and shakes it vigorously to see if they’ll fight. They do, but not in the way you’d expect and not necessarily against each other! This is one of Germany’s only contributions to the golden age of action b-movies; we’re in “tiefschnitt” territory, you might say. Or is it “schwacher hintern” territory? I always mix those up.
I’ll begin by answering two questions right off the bat that I know most of you are asking. No — this movie has nothing to do with legendary pro wrestler “Macho Man” Randy Savage or the Village People song of the same name. And no — this boxing actor is of no relation to the dude who played ROBOCOP. Sorry to be so negative, but facts are facts (unless they’re alternative facts)!
The streets of Nuremberg, Germany are being flooded with heroin by a dangerous drug gang headed up by a dude who looks like a sleazy, coked out version of John Ritter. One of his main dealers, Tony, is after a young woman named Sandra (Fiedler) because she had the audacity to help one of her best friends (e.g., Tony’s customer) to get clean and sober. One night, as Tony and his thugs assault Sandra and try to forcibly inject her with heroin on a poorly lit street, a local boxer named Dany Wagner (Weller) just happens to be driving home from practice and sees the fracas. He pummels the thugs and makes the save, but he also makes a mortal enemy in Tony and the other dealers. During the drive to her home, Dany invites Sandra on a date.
Shortly thereafter, Dany goes to a local bank and his path crosses with Andreas (Althof), a local karate school instructor making a routine deposit of dojo funds. The two fighters jointly thwart an attempted bank robbery by two goons (the getaway driver is beaten and captured by Andreas’s karate comrade, Markus, played by Michael Messing). And wouldn’t you know it: Sandra just so happens to work at the office of a medical doctor who treats a number of area athletes, including Andreas himself!
The blonde karate master initially sets his romantic sights on Sandra — they attend a boxing card together where Dany is the headliner, unbeknownst to them — and the story teases a love triangle. That is, until glitzy first-dan karate student, Lisa (Elber) flies into town on her private jet in search of private lessons, and steals Andreas’s gaze. The destiny of all four characters converge on a fateful night at the local disco, where Dany and Sandra are grinding out a glittery, denim-laden dance of seduction. Lisa and Andreas arrive with his karate posse in tow, and sparks of jealousy fly between the two men who are macho. (Is it jealousy over Sandra? Or jealousy over Dany’s amazing denim jump-suit? Inquiring minds gotta know). Recognizing the possibilities, Lisa goads Andreas into challenging Dany to the ultimate style vs. style match.
Will the two random fighters make good on following through with the fight of the decade? Or will the looming threat of the heroin gang derail those plans and get everyone hooked on Reindeer Dust? And what is director Alexander Titus Benda trying to say about the “macho man” archetype as a manifestation of toxic masculinity and the male gender as it relates to violence and sex? Ha, just kidding. Nothing much.
Throughout the 1980s and 90s, plenty of b-movie production houses formalized the practice of bringing seasoned competitive fighters into the filmmaking game as leading actors; this extended overseas as well. When this film was released, Weller was an accomplished professional boxer on the European scene but would only do one more film after this during his initial foray into movies (more on that in a minute). As a former heating engineer, jeweler, and goldsmith, we’ll have to assume his many varied interests were simply too consuming for a full-time career in acting.
In 1991, a half-decade after MACHO MAN was released, a German court forced the filmmakers to remove all of Weller’s sex scenes with Bea Fiedler from the film, per his request. We’ll never know the extent to which this experience may have soured him on movies, but apparently not so much that he could resist the urge to come back for MACHO MAN 2, which is a real, actual thing being crowdfunded and made in 2017 for reasons I can’t understand (the website is in German and I literally can’t read it). On my big list of analogies I never expected to make, “MACHO MAN is to Germany as SAMURAI COP is to America” was very close to the top.
Between the karate sparring, board (and rock!) breaking, boxing bouts, and the rumbles between our heroes and the various villains, the fighting scenes in this film are a mixed bag. The karate and boxing exhibitions, while broadly impressive on an athletic level and well integrated into the montages, aren’t likely to move the needle for most fight film fans. (How many close-up shots of boxing footwork are too many? This film doesn’t care!)
Where MACHO MAN really hits, however, is with its approach to street fights and bar brawls (one is even preceded by a heroic watch synchronization scene). Consciously or not, Benda takes a few pages from the 1980s Filipino and Indonesia action movie playbook and made these fights dirty, smashy, and trashy. Breakaway furniture, hits to the balls, and flailing strikes are just some of the tricks the filmmakers deploy to keep things chaotic. Throw in flowing scarves, crisp leather, and macho shit-talking in the German language, and the result is a unique and enjoyable blueprint that can be continually used without getting stale. Truly wunderbar!
If anyone ever doubts the pervasive influence of machismo-laden 1980s American action film at a global scale, one need look no further than MACHO MAN for evidence. The various fashions of the era — the haircuts, the facial hair, the clothing — mark it as an artifact of not just a particular time, but also a particular place. The Bavarian flavor here is extra funky, and *almost* entirely unique to the genre for this part of the world (1979’s ROOTS OF EVIL beat them to the punch by a good six years). Recommended.
— This content was originally published on Fist of B-List