Bandits

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“Bad Girls – the musical.”

Not the Billy Bob Thornton/Bruce Willis vehicle of the same name, this German film is several years older. Four girls, in the titular prison band, seize the chance to escape when playing at a police function. With freedom comes unexpected fame, thanks to a tape sent to an unscrupulous record company executive. There is plenty of potential for a Natural Born Killers-style hack at the media, manafactured celebrity: the Bandits could go after the exec for exploiting them, he could encourage the cops to shoot the fugitives and increase sales, etc. Von Garnier largely avoids this, in favour of unsuccessful chick-flick emoting, and a slightly surreal approach, like a long-format pop video. Add an irrelevant subplot in which the Bandits take a hostage, play with him for a bit, then dump him, and it’s clear the script is embarrassingly weak.

Fortunately the rest of the film holds the script up, aided by Von Garnier’s good visual style – albeit one perhaps more appropriate for MTV (one scene is in danger of turning into Fame!). The characters, too, deserve better, a fascinating mix of archetypes: the tough girl, the slightly mad oldie, the ditzy sexpot, etc. They could easily slump into shallow cliche, and it’s a credit to the actresses that they don’t. The music is a key element, and isn’t terrible, though personally, I’m a long way from going out and buying the soundtrack. In the end, all the elements combine with the unstated potential to create an engaging failure. Could have been, should have been, yet there’s still enough to make it worth a look.

Dir: Katja von Garnier
Star: Katja Riemann, Jasmin Tabatabai, Nicolette Krebitz, Jutta Hoffman

Cherry 2000

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” In the future, we’ll have sex robots and 3-wheel cars. But toaster ovens will be in short supply.”

Though I hope 80’s hair never makes the comeback shown here, this SF actioner has some nice ideas about the future, amid jabs at human relationships. Sam (Andrews) has opted for synthetic love, in the form of the titular android, largely because dating has become more like a business merger, complete with contracts – a pre-Matrix Larry Fishburne plays a lawyer specialising in sex. When his Cherry breaks down, the only replacement is out in the post-apocalyptic wastes, and he hires the feisty Johnson (Griffith) to keep his ass out of trouble and get him there. On the way, they meet the delightfully evil Lester (Thomerson) and his posse, and there’s an impressive, if illogical, sequence involving a crane, Really Big Explosions, and Really Dumb Villains.

I really wanted to love this: three years later, De Jarnatt directed Miracle Mile, an all-time favourite, and probably the best obscure film ever. Of course, we all know that Sam is eventually going to discover that flesh and blood beats circuitry any day, and the makers know that we know, so don’t make much effort at building the relationship. Brion James turns up briefly, though they missed the chance to have the former replicant (Blade Runner) turn android hunter. I think it’s all probably tongue in cheek, and as such is largely criticism-proof, but a lot of it comes over as bland (Thomerson and his crew of barbecuing yuppies excepted) and it’s hard to relate to a hero basically after a hi-tech puncture repair kit for his rubber doll. More sex, violence and general bad ‘tude could have made it a classic.

Dir: Steve De Jarnatt
Star: David Andrews, Melanie Griffith, Tim Thomerson, Ben Johnson

Fatal Justice

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“Doesn’t deliver what the cover promises – though, how could it?”

Half a point added for the lurid sleeve, an absolute classic of exploitation, that certainly lurid-ed us (“us?” says Chris – okay, me…) into purchasing, even as I knew it would disappoint. And I was not, er, disappointed in my disappointment. There’s a slight hint of Alias about the plot, in which an agent (Ager) with a penchant for wigs, discovers her father (Estevez) is in the same organization, and that she might not have been working on the side of the angels. It diverges sharply when she is ordered to kill him, along with a training camp for assassins that badly overstays its welcome. [Though it has a decent start, where the would-be hitmen have to cut the patriotic bull and admit they just like killing people.]

Ager can’t cut it as an action heroine at all, and the explosions and auto work come from stuntmen’s demo reels: note in particular the sudden colour change of the car driven by the heroine and her father. Estevez and Folger provide decent support, though it’d have been much better if someone – perhaps the guy who designed the sleeve? – had checked the script for painfully glaring plot-holes. My personal favourite? At the end, the heroine, in a blonde wig, gets a new ID from a supplier, who professes not to recognise her…even though the new ID has her blonde photo! Wouldn’t surprise me if “Gerald Cain” was a pseudonym for producer Fred Olen Ray, though it lacks the tongue-in-cheek approach which usually perks up his work. This film certainly needs something to enliven it.

Dir: Gerald Cain
Star: Suzanne Ager, Joe Estevez, Richard Folmer, Tom Bertino