Barb Wire

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“Play it again, Pam…”

When I picked up this DVD, I could hear Chris rolling her eyes at me. And during the first five minutes of the movie – which consists of virtually nothing but Pam on a swing, getting sprayed with a fire-hose, silicone on display – this eye-rolling escalated to the point where I swear I could hear them whirring like the reels on a slot-machine. But by the end, even she had to admit that being a titty-fest – and there’s hardly a scene here without cleavage – doesn’t necessarily make this a bad movie…

For this is nowhere near as bad as its Gigli-like reputation would have you believe. Okay, for $18m, you might expect a bit more than a post-Mad Max setting, and you would certainly expect more from your screenwriter than a blatant steal from Casablanca – Ilene Chaiken should be drummed out of the WGA for claiming a story credit here. But this is an adaptation of a comic-book, starring Pamela Anderson (Lee, as she was then known): what do you expect? I venture to suggest that, if I was 15, this would probably be the greatest story ever told.

Barb Wire runs a club called the Hammerhead in Steel Harbour, one of the last bastions of freedom in 2017 America, where a civil war is ongoing. She funds the club by catching bail-jumpers and rescuing kidnap victims (inevitably, posing as a stripper or hooker), and has to deal with all sides to keep the venue open. But when her former lover Axel (Morrison) turns up, with his new wife, who desperately needs out, her position on the fence suddenly becomes untenable, and she has to choose which side she’s really on.

For those who know Casablanca, almost every element appears in that Bogart classic:

Element Casablanca Barb Wire
Setting Casablanca Steel Harbor
Era World War Two Second American Civil War
Enemy Nazis Congressional Directorate
Hero Rick Blaine Barb Wire
[A cynical expatriate who owns a bar and plays both sides]
Former lover Ilsa Axel
Now wedded to Victor Laszlo Cora D
Who needs… Exit visas Contact lenses
[Which let the bearer escape to safety]
Location Rick’s Bar The Hammerhead
Head Waiter Carl Curly
Chief Villain Major Strasser Colonel Pryzer
Top Cop Louis Renault Alexander Willis
Slimy dealer Guillermo Ugarte Schmitz
Mr. Big Signor Ferrari Big Fatso

About the only new facet is Barb’s blind brother (Noseworthy) – it’s a shame he doesn’t play the piano, though he does act as Barb’s conscience. This concept, turning one of the most beloved Hollywood films of all time into a post-apocalyptic cheesecake-fest, is worth the price of admission alone, simply for its surrealness and sheer audacity. What next? Britney Spears as the lead in a remake of It’s a Wonderful Life?

While one might question Pam’s acting talents, she is backed by a sterling cast of character actors: Steve Railsback, Xander Berkeley, Clint Howard, Udo Kier and Temuera Morrison. Each one hits the mark in their role, delivering lines with the correct level of enthusiasm. Kier, as usual, steals the show (his presence definitely helped soothe Chris’s eye-rolling), though Berkeley’s sleazy cop is perhaps the biggest surprise, especially if you’re only familiar with him as Jack Bauer’s boss in the first two seasons of 24.

Credit should also go to Debbie Evans, Anderson’s stunt double, since it’s fairly obvious that Anderson, while having an undeniable presence (albeit a presence severely diluted whenever she opens her mouth for more than a one-liner – not that this ever stopped Van Damme, Stallone, or even Governor Arnie), is not doing her own stunts. Despite this, the action in the movie is well above-average, with some really cool explosions and fights, notably Axel’s battle a long way off the ground.

Certainly, Barb’s psychotic opposition to being called “babe” seems somewhat hypocritical given how she dresses. And really, despite the, ahem, “inspiration”, the plotting is a lot less fluid than you’d hope, with scenes that come out of and/or go nowhere. Just keep an eye on the contact lenses – alternatively, a familiarity with Casablanca will help you keep things straight and ignore the irrelevant threads.

I admit, you could argue the entire story is irrelevant, and this is nothing more than an indefensible cocktail of eroticized violence. But those who live in such a moral vacuum as to require Hollywood to fill in the gaps, have got much bigger problems than Pamela Anderson’s breasts. If you can get past the first five minutes (which even I will say seem a lot longer), there’s no denying the effort expended here – albeit mostly on sex and violence, aimed at the lizard section of the viewer’s brain.

Yet curiously, actual sex doesn’t seem to take place in this universe at all, having apparently been replaced by tight-fitting costumes: claiming it’s a comment on life in a post-AIDS world is likely more credit than it deserves. Still, probably not a date movie (except in our house!), for this is trash, with hardly a thought in its vapid little head or 17-inch waist, and no agenda worth mentioning. Film doesn’t always need to be great art, any more than music; reprising the Britney motif, Barb Wire is equivalent to something like Hit Me Baby One More Time.

Perhaps the best comment comes from the Screen It website of parental reviews: “Topics to talk about – none”. There are times when this is a glowing recommendation for a movie, and at those times (probably a late weekend night, with a well-stocked fridge), Barb Wire fits the bill admirably.

Dir: David Hogan
Star: Pamela Anderson, Steve Railsback, Temuera Morrison, Jack Noseworthy

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