blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

The Trial of the Incredible Hulk (1989, Bill Bixby)

Spoiler: there’s no trial in Trial of the Incredible Hulk. Except maybe the viewer’s difficulty getting through the TV movie. Or producer, director, and star Bixby doing a special effects heavy (but not for Hulk Lou Ferrigno) backdoor pilot for a “Daredevil” TV show starring very special guest star Rex Smith. Ferrigno’s so shoe-horned into the production he doesn’t even get to Hulk out in the third act.

Things are off from the start, which has Bixby working on a ranch—run by familiar-looking TV guest star Meredith Bain Woodward—only to leave when he’s being bullied too much. Don’t want to waste one of the three Ferrigno scenes on a ranch fight. Woodward warns Bixby if he heads to the city, it’ll suck his soul out. Now, the city never gets mentioned by name—it’s Vancouver—but when henchman Nicholas Hormann lists the various crime lords’ home bases, New York is left off the list and Daredevil’s traditionally New York.

And Trial’s New York City being in a quick hitchhike from the Canadian North Shore mountains or whatever… well, it sums up the production fairly well.

Most of the episode is about Smith trying to rescue third-billed Marta DuBois from John Rhys-Davies. Rhys-Davies is playing evil businessman Wilson Fisk (aka the Kingpin, though not in Trial), who wears his sunglasses both indoors and at night, and watches everything on video. The opening jewelry store heist sequence has the robbers setting up cameras so Rhys-Davies can see what they’re doing and instruct them. There are a few times throughout the movie where it’s clear someone did a lot of work getting all that video to show right in the final production. Shame Gerald Di Pego’s script doesn’t have similar levels of care.

Let me see if I can quickly summarize the contrivances. DuBois is on the same subway train as Bixby after the jewelry heist. Bad guys John Novak and Dwight Koss are also on the train, giddy after their successful robbery. Novak decides he’s going to rape DuBois. Koss seems iffy on it, but then agrees. After initially staying out of it, Bixby finally Hulks out, and it’s Ferrigno to the rescue.

Except after the cops arrest Bixby (post-Hulk out), DuBois tells them he was the one who assaulted her. It just doesn’t make sense to poor Bixby, who thinks he’s still in the more wholesome, early eighties era of primetime. Smith offers his services to Bixby—who goes from a jail cell to a prison cell without so much as a hearing (about halfway through Trial he has a scene about not being able into the courtroom because he’d let Ferrigno deal with it)—and Bixby reluctantly agrees. Basically because Smith is blind. DuBois is also nicer to Smith once she realizes he’s blind. It’d have been a wild “Daredevil” show; so many plot twists based on Smith being blind and people not realizing he’s got sonar vision.

After DuBois tells Smith what really happened, Rhys-Davies realizes there’s still another forty-five minutes, so he tells consigliere Hormann to kidnap her and use her as bait for Daredevil. No one in Vancouver New York has heard of the Incredible Hulk so it’s not really a team-up movie, at least not in terms of action set pieces. Hormann falls in love with DuBois, potentially complicating matters.

Can Bixby and Smith bond over their respective radioactive secrets and save her in time?

There’s very little for Bixby to do in Trial. Eventually, he plays big brother to Smith, who gets a whole “Daredevil Forever” arc in his first appearance, as Rhys-Davies is able to hit him in the ego. But until then, he’s got to stay busy in scenes with no plot arc for himself. Lots of small talk.

Smith’s got his whole potential series crew with him—love interest and law partner Nancy Everhard, Black guy who works at the office Richard Cummings Jr., Commissioner Gordon Joseph Mascolo, and then Hormann. Rhys-Davies clearly wasn’t showing up for every episode of “Daredevil,” and Hormann could be the stand-in. Apparently, the show would then feature the damsel-in-distress (so DuBois here) having to do multiple scenes being terrorized before Smith would rescue her.

DuBois gets a whole bunch to do. Multiple monologues about how shitty everyone is being to her even though she was the one who was almost raped. She gives one basically every fifteen minutes.

While DuBois is just okay—there’s nothing she can do with the part—she easily puts in the best work in the movie. Smith wants that series gig and tries hard, but no matter how game his performance, he’s bad. He’s sympathetic; he’s trying to make hash out of this terrible movie; still bad.

Trial is an arduous watch, except for counting Vancouver locations and plot holes. It’s not even fun for catching shots of Ferrigno in his Hulk booties. He’s always wearing them.

The morbidly curious might be interested in watching Bixby’s attempts at playing Fiege, but otherwise… beware.

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