“Smack my bitch up.”
There are some films which I like, and where if you don’t agree with me, you are an idiot – such as Shaun of the Dead. However, there are movies where I can see, understand and accept why people dislike them, even if I may strongly disagree. Bitch Slap would be one of the latter. Looking at the the IMDb ballot results, the top number of voters have given it one out of ten. However, the next-most have given it 10/10. Between them, those two extremes represent more than 40% of the total votes. Much the same thing – albeit to a somewhat less rabidly-partisan degree – happened here in GwG Towers.
Chris has a certain firmness of opinion. When she has made up her mind about something, it’s pretty hard to get her to change it. She will purse her lips, fold her arms and stick to her guns. You could argue whether this strong will is a character quality or a flaw, but it certainly led to her early exit from Bitch Slap. Here’s an approximate timeline of the comments from the seat on the couch next to me:
- 5 minutes: “Would you rather watch this alone?”
- 5:30 minutes: “Are you sure you wouldn’t rather watch this alone?
- 10 minutes: “Is this a porno?”
- 20 minutes: “Could this get any more stereotypical?”
It was not long after this – I think it was when the lesbian canoodling started – she suddenly remembered she had a vitally-important task to perform elsewhere. Judging by the sounds emanating from our office, that task appeared to involve Facebook poker.
Of course, to me, complaining about the film being stereotypical is missing the point. It’s supposed to be a frothy melange of cliches, thrown into the cinematic melting-pot and the heat turned up to ‘High’. The opening credit sequence, with its clips of “bad girls” such as Tura Satana and Christina Lindberg, gives you some idea of what to expect, and it hardly pauses thereafter, growing increasingly more breathlessly frenetic. Not often have I seen a movie suffering from a more chronic case of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Diso… Ooh, look! Shiny, pretty things!
Speaking of which, it centers on three women, with about as divergent personalities as it’s possible to imagine. There’s Hel (Cummings), a con-artist with a secret identity; the psychotic Camero (Olivio), who starts off the movie insane, yet somehow manages to get even more loopy as things progress; and, finally, Trixie (Voth), the “innocent” one, whom you’re not quite sure about. The heroic trio end up out in the desert, with Gage (Hurst) tied up in their trunk, seeking… Well, part of the plot revolves around that issue, so I’ll leave that out of the summary. From there, the story of how they reached that point is told in flashback, and event also unfold moving forward, as they try to locate their obscure object of desire before the infamous, deadly “Pinky” shows up.
Of course, it’s not as simple as that. Others are after the same prize, such as Hot Wire and his GoGo Yubari clone (Japanese, schoolgirl, killer yo-yo), Kinki (Minae Noji). There’s also a good deal of tension, sexual and otherwise, between the three heroines: are any of them quite what they seem? I imagine my usage of the phrase “secret identity” above might have given some of the game away there. It hardly counts as a spoiler either, to say that it all ends (eventually) in a brawl between Camaro and Hel, in the middle of a desolate wasteland, which has become steadily more wasted and bullet-ridden over the course of the movie.
The Laydeez of Bitch Slap
Director Jacobson certainly has a solid pedigree in the action-heroine world, at least at the televisual end of the spectrum. His resume includes episodes of La Femme Nikita, Cleopatra 2525, Xena: Warrior Princess and She Spies, a good number of which have a similarly self-parodying approach to their subject matter as seen here. However, while the excess is somewhat greater, this only really extends to some potty-mouth lines and digital blood. Despite all the tension and canoodling mentioned earlier, Cummings shows a lot more skin for Jaconson as the hero’s wife in Spartacus: Blood and Sand. If you’re going for camp excess, as appears to be the case, you need to be a good deal more…well, excessive.
The main weak link is the leads, who don’t have the chops – physical or acting – to pull this off. I to wonder whether it might have been a good deal better if stunt co-ordinator Zoe Bell, Lucy Lawless and Renee O’Connor had been the stars of the film, rather than merely cameos. They have all previously shown the necessary combination of martial ability and screen presence necessary for the parts here. Not that the actresses here are “bad”: however, when you’re spitting out Satana-esque lines like, “Ram this in your clambake, bitch cake!” you’d better have the F-sized volume of charismatic fire-power to pull them off, and they fall short of the level needed for this to achieve classic status (Olivo probably comes closest to the necessary level of conviction, spitting our her dialogue with a perpetual sneer).
Having got those criticisms out of the way, the rest of the film is very solid entertainment – providing, as noted above, you can get your brain lined-up with what it’s trying to do (and if you can’t, which is understandable, it’s basically unsalvageable). Alcohol will probably help the neurons go in the correct direction, as will an encyclopaedic knowledge of pop culture, and tolerance for trash at an industrial concentration. The litmus test is probably the slow-motion water-fight which breaks out among the three laydeez early on: if you greet that with a smirk of guilty pleasure (as charged, m’lud), rather than, oh, bailing for the Facebook poker lobby, you’ll probably be fine.
Jacobsen also does a good job with the visual style, providing a perfect match for the lurid, frenetic approach of the script and character. There’s a lot of green screen work, which lends proceeding a hyperreal feeling, and the pace means that there’s hardly a dull moment. Not sure the storyline makes a great deal of sense, I admit, and it feels as overstuffed as a giant bean burrito (you know the kind, the ones you regret buying about one-third of the way through, but just can’t stop yourself from finishing). The fractured plotline has been compared to Tarantino, but personally, there’s a good deal less annoying self-indulgence than Quentin usually inflicts on the audience: for example, Camero doesn’t bring things to a grinding halt, just to witter on about comic-books.
All told, it’s refreshing to see something which is so avowedly politically-incorrect, and proud of it. The film is at its best when wallowing in the gutter, unashamedly down and dirty, and with a broad grin upon its face – credit to all those involved for having the guts not give a damn about the nay-sayers and one-voters. It’s not going to trouble the more-evolved areas of your brain very much, and will tug on the heartstrings even less, but for the times when you don’t want anything more than the cinematic equivalent of a one-night stand, this will certainly do the job perfectly well. Certainly the most full-on, and arguably the best, of the genre to come out of Hollywood in the past five years.
Dir: Rick Jacobson
Star: Julia Voth, America Olivo, Erin Cummings, Michael Hurst