It's not the western revisionism that bothered Judge Mitchell Hattaway; it was the lack of on-screen rattlesnakes.
It was a dangerous time to be a woman. And a good time to have friends.
Here's a simple way to describe Bad Girls: Imagine The Wild Bunch with a rewrite by Danielle Steel. Yep, it's that bad.
Facts of the Case
Cody, Eileen, Lilly, and Anita are prostitutes working in the Old West. When a drunken customer attempts to assault Anita (Mary Stuart Masterson, Some Kind of Wonderful), Cody (Madeleine Stowe, Revenge) shoots him. Cody is taken into the town square to be hanged, but her three friends rescue her. They then take it on the lam, and soon run across Kid Jarrett (James Russo, The Postman), an outlaw with whom Cody was once involved; Jarrett steals some money from Cody and later kidnaps Lilly (Drew Barrymore, Duplex). The women decide to storm Jarrett's compound and rescue their friend. They are aided in their efforts by William Tucker (James Le Gros, Catch that Kid), a rancher who has fallen in love with Eileen (Andie MacDowell, Hudson Hawk); also helping out is Josh McCoy (Dermot Mulroney, Young Guns), a cowboy who has his own reasons for wanting to see Jarrett dead.
You know, a sincere, smart film about the lives of four Old West prostitutes possibly could have been rather interesting, and a flat-out, rollicking, babe western might have been fun, but the makers of Bad Girls apparently couldn't seem to decide exactly what they wanted this film to be. Needless to say, what they ended up with is a big mess.
The film opens on a rather serious note, but as soon as the girls rescue Cody and ride out of town, well, wouldn't you know it, everything starts falling apart. For example, there's an early scene in which the women have stopped to repair a wagon wheel. Just as they manage to get the wheel back on the axle, a rattlesnake scares the horses, causing them to bolt. Barrymore's character suddenly turns into Zorro, charges after the wagon, catches up to it, jumps from her horse to the wagon, and reins in the charging horses. That's a wild tonal shift, and a harbinger of (bad) things to come; it's pretty much all downhill from there. (Some sort of explanation for Lilly's abilities is offered up later in the film, but I don't buy the explanation. This explanation also comes forty minutes after Lilly has pulled off this trick, which is more than enough time to think about how stupid the whole sequence is. I also felt cheated by the fact that the rattlesnake is heard and not seen; in fact, because of the poor sound work in the scene, the first time I watched it I thought maybe the horses had been scared by a bumblebee.)
Even though they're really few and far between, I found it a little hard to swallow the film's (mixed) female empowerment messages. A scene in which Lilly scolds Eileen for flirting with a male passerby (Eileen is playing nice in hopes of getting a decent meal, but Lilly says they'll no longer be whoring themselves for any reason) is soon followed by a scene in which Lilly is shown giving a deputy a glimpse of her thigh and ass in hopes of distracting him while Anita busts Eileen out of jail (the events surrounding Eileen's imprisonment aren't worth getting into). While we're at it, let's take a look at Cody, who's supposed to be strong willed and independent, but is at the same time stupid enough to think that her former lover, a man who earned a name for himself by robbing banks and trains and the man apparently responsible for the whip scars that crisscross her back, will suddenly play nice and give back the money he's stolen from her. What's she thinking? Then again, I don't understand why she doesn't just shoot Jarrett between the eyes and get it over with. Hell, she's given plenty of opportunities to do just that. I don't get it—Stowe's character is the type of person who will pull a gun on a store owner because she feels she's been slighted by an offhand remark, but for some unexplained reason she won't pull it on the man who has robbed and beaten her. Go figure.
Speaking of ill-defined characters, Robert Loggia (Innocent Blood) appears in the film as Jarrett's father. When we first meet him, Loggia's character is kind and sympathetic and almost seems to be a father figure for Stowe's character; he's even shown berating his son about plans to rob an Army train. Well, about twenty minutes later, for no reason whatsoever, Loggia turns into the biggest tool in the film, taunting Mulroney about his dead mother and boasting about having sexually assaulted Stowe. Maybe I missed something, but I don't get the sudden change. Le Gros's character bothers me, too, but mainly because I'm tired of seeing dopey young guys, especially dopey young guys in westerns, fall in love with the first prostitute to cross their paths. Jesus, can't we retire that cliché?
In addition to the poor characters and absurd situations, Bad Girls is rife with bad dialogue. My favorite example can be found in a scene in which Anita goes to a bank and discovers that the land claim she holds is worthless because her husband is dead. Anita gets angry and storms out of the bank, but not before stopping to refer to the banker as, in all seriousness, a "sawed-off old fart." Man, somebody got paid to write that? I wonder if maybe it was the same person who got paid to rip off The Wild Bunch (five writers are credited, although several more reportedly worked on the script). Let's see, you get a train robbery (but many westerns feature those), a lead character being kidnapped (although that's not unusual), and a climatic shootout inside the villain's compound in which a large machine gun is used (there we go!). Hell, this film's climax is so much of a rip-off of the ending of the The Wild Bunch (complete with the heroes forming a line and marching into the villain's pad) that about the only thing missing is Ernest Borgnine's scream of "Pike!"
I guess I would be remiss if I didn't talk a little about this film's troubled production. Filming began under the direction of Tamra Davis (who would later helm Billy Madison and the Britney Spears howler Crossroads); a few weeks into production, the studio shut down the shoot, fired Davis, and brought aboard Jonathan Kaplan. Kaplan had the script rewritten, recast a couple of the lead roles, and scrapped everything Davis had shot. (I've never been able to find any concrete information on who was hired/fired when Kaplan took over, but I get the feeling MacDowell and Barrymore were the two holdovers; Kaplan had previously worked with Stowe in Unlawful Entry and Masterson in Immediate Family, so I imagine he cast them, but I could be wrong.) I guess Kaplan was brought in to helm this story because of his work on such films as The Accused and Heart Like a Wheel, although I personally think he would have come up with a much more entertaining film had he harkened back to his days making B-movies and Roger Corman-produced flicks. I'll take Night Call Nurses or Truck Turner over Bad Girls any day of the week. (I find it a little hard to believe that Davis was actually making a film worse than the one Kaplan concocted, but I guess anything's possible.)
Anybody care about the acting? I didn't think so, but I guess I had better say something about it. Okay, here goes: It stinks. Madeleine Stowe turns in one of her patented stiff performances, and Drew Barrymore does yet another riff on her goofy teenager bit. Andie MacDowell does little more than smile and bat her eyelashes, and Mary Stuart Masterson pretty much just stands around with her jaw clenched. (You should see the four of them trying to look tough when they walk into Jarrett's compound at the end; Barrymore attempts to convey determination and resolve by squinting and poking out her lower lip.) Dermot Mulroney is a complete blank; I get the feeling he was hired simply because he already knew how to ride a horse. James Le Gros does nothing more than take up space in a frame, while James Russo hams it up shamelessly. Robert Loggia is a real disappointment; you can usually count on him to liven up things, but he's phoning it in here. (The fact that his white beard makes him look an awful lot like Kenny Rogers is good for a couple of laughs, though.)
Okay, so that's enough with the bad. Let's move on to the only good things I have to say about this release, and those things concern the audio/video aspects. The anamorphic transfer (I didn't bother to sample the full-frame version) is rather nicely done, with good color saturation, deep blacks, and very little artifacting or edge enhancement. There are times, however, when it can be a little on the soft side. This is, to a certain degree, intentional, as it's obvious Kaplan employed some lighting tricks and filters in some of the close-ups of his leading ladies, but on a couple occasions, the picture becomes too soft. There's also evidence of some damage to the source elements, specifically some speckling during the opening credits. The audio is a lot punchier than I thought it would be; there's some nice surround action and a good bit of deep bass (some of the gunshots are pretty thunderous), although at times the mix can get a little odd. A couple times I noticed the sounds of objects or people in the backgrounds of certain shots coming from the surrounds; it didn't happen too often, but the times it did happen it was very noticeable. As far as extras are concerned, we get two theatrical trailers and nothing else.
Oh, yeah, I almost forgot. This is an extended cut of Bad Girls, so you might be wondering what's in the extra footage. Well, this version runs about a minute longer than the theatrical version, and that minute consists of a couple shots of Drew Barrymore's breasts. Lord knows there's no need to sit through the other 99 minutes of this film just to see that (that's what the Internet is for), but I just thought somebody might be interested to know.
Bad Girls…bad movie. Heh-heh. That was almost too easy.
Guilty! Hang everyone involved.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
• Theatrical Trailers
Review content copyright © 2005 Mitchell Hattaway; Site design and review layout copyright © 2014 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.