Friday, October 7, 2011

BITCH SLAP (2009)

PHENOMENALITY: *uncanny*
MYTHICITY: *fair*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *drama* [CORRECTION: *irony*]
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *psychological*


Writer-director Rick Jacobson's homage to the T&A oeuvre of Russ Meyer may not have a script as well-written (for a trash classic, that is) as the one Jack Moran wrote for Meyer's FASTER, PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL! But Jacobson does a great job of trying (as most Meyer imitators do not) of trying to make his trashy epic as violent and bawdy as possible under current cultural conditions. Said conditions mean that unlike Meyer, but like Quentin Tarantino, Jacobson can get away with almost every kind of violence and sexual reference to earn his "R" rating, but little actual nudity.

This is a film which I label "uncanny" only thanks to a few marginal elements in the story; had they been left out, it would be a "naturalistic" (however unrealistic) storyline. The central plot concerns three hot women who drive out to a house in the desert (by itself a trope with a strong resemblance to PUSSYCAT). Jacobson also changes up the "tough babe" ratio from the Meyer film. PUSSCYAT sported two hot women who weren't especially tough and one (Tura Satana's character) who was a karate-chopping wonder. Here one of the women, Trixie (Julia Voth, seen at left in the photo above), registers as a wimp, albeit one with a certain manipulative flair. The other two, Hel (Erin Cummings) and Camero (America Olivo), are proficient in both gun-skills and hand-to-hand fighting, and the film gives both ample chances to show off those abilities. The three of them do bring a male prisoner to the deserted house with them, but he doesn't survive his interrogation long enough to play much of a role in the story.

Said interrogation takes place largely to explain the women's mission: they're looking for a cache of money allegedly concealed on the property by a mysterious crimeboss known only as "Pinky" (almost surely a hat-tip to the Japanese subgenre of crimefilms nicknamed "Pinky Violence" pictures because they often included formidable women characters). Trixie is more or less being dragged into the plot by the more assertive Hel and Camero, though it eventually comes out that one of the three is actually a sort of superspy looking not for money but for a buried trove of nanotechnology, which is another of the aforementioned "uncanny" devices. Others such devices occur not in the main plot but in the many flashbacks scattered throughout the body of the film. One flashback shows the "lady superspy" pulling off some typically absurd James Bond stunt with the aid of rocket-skis. Another depicts what happened when the tech was stolen from the army by the phantasmal Pinky, not clearly seen thanks to some sort of dark ninja garb but essentially decimating a cadre of soldiers a la KILL BILL. Pinky even goes Beatrice Kiddo one better, using a sword to deflect gunfire.

As noted these marginal fantasy-elements barely impact the main theme, which involves the three women stuck in the middle of nowhere quarreling with one another, or having sex with one another, or eventually battling two gangsta-wannabes who show up trying to hijack the treasure: Hot Wire (William Gregory Lee) and Kinki (Minae Noji). There's also a deputy sheriff who shows up and eventually gets drawn into the chaos, while all the while the beleaguered gang-girls keep trying to complete their errand before their nemesis Pinky overtakes them. As to Pinky's nature, deponent saith not, but the experienced viewer will probably see this particular plot-development coming from many a mile away.

I give BITCH SLAP a fair rating in terms of its psychological mythicity. This isn't because the film imparts any psychological depth to any of the characters, who are all intended to be larger-than-life archetypes of formidable femininity. Rather, I rate BS "fair" simply because Jacobson does a good job of balancing these archetypes against one another so that they don't seem overly predictable (even if the script itself frequently is). As noted above, Trixie is manipulative and cunning, Camero is violent and unstable, and Hel is driven and businesslike. Yet although none of them is either "realistic" or even intended to be so, Jacobson plays them off one another well enough.

Still, the emphasis is on sex and violence, not character. At one point a character (perhaps speaking as a filmic alter ego for Jacobson?) says something like "I love a good catfight." Viewers who love hard-hitting punch-like-a-man female combat shouldn't be disappointed here, especially given that the two most formidable femmes have not one but two concluding fight-scenes.

Jacobson's resume, in fact, reads like a laundry list of many of the best-known formidable-female TV-shows of the 1990s and 2000s: XENA WARRIOR PRINCESS, LA FEMME NIKITA, CLEOPATRA 2525 (which also sported a lead heroine named "Hel'), and SHE SPIES, not to mention short runs on serials that mixed male and female heroes (MORTAL KOMBAT: CONQUEST, HERCULES: THE LEGENDARY JOURNEYS). Jacobson's experience working on a lot of the "Renaissance Pictures" shows is unquestionably the reason why BITCH SLAP features short perfs by several alumni of those shows: Kevin Sorbo, Michael Hurst, stuntwoman Zoe Bell, and even a short "reunion" of Lucy Lawless and Renee O'Connor.

The director's commentary isn't nearly as entertaining as the film, but it does have its share of "wow-we'd-never-duplicate-that-stunt-in-a-million-years" stories, and is worth a listen.

ADDENDA:  On reconsideration I've decided that the narrative emphasis of BITCH SLAP is not that of "pathos," which is typical of the drama, but "sparagmos," dealing with not just the rending of bodies (which certainly occurs in SLAP) but the rending of souls as well, which is the essential result of the Big Reveal at film's end.

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