Judge Bill Gibron was hoping for some kind of indie film filet with this supposedly well-marbled thriller. Instead, he ended up with one rank variety meat of a movie.
Meat may be murder, but this movie is just as lethal.
L.A. health inspector Theresa (Sarah Lassez, Chatroom) has a few problems. Her brother's meat-packing business is failing, her ex-boyfriend is harassing her with desperate, stalker like phone calls, and her current beau, a failed televangelist (Walter Koenig, Moontrap), won't return her calls. Even worse, she's been eating a lot of beef lately, and with the Mad Cow scare in full swing, it's possible that she's been infected. This leads her to long nights masturbating in front of the TV (especially when her God-fearing fella is on), endless crying jags, and an unhealthy obsession with a chopsocky show called The Girl with the Thunderbolt Kick. Somehow, as her life continues to unwind, Theresa starts dreaming of divergent, disgusting things. She beds her brother, confronts both her beaus, and begins to train to take on the internal assassins that are mucking up her mind. Oh, and she continues to eat a lot of animal flesh, gets friendly with a blond she meets at church, has sex with a priest in a porno theater, and basically sets new standards in personal nymphomania. It is clear that something is very wrong with this woman. The question is, is she a Mad Cowgirl, or is she just insane? The answer, of course, is…who cares?!?!?
So pretentious that free-verse reading Goth poets are pissed off at its affectations, Mad Cowgirl is an overly arch load of bovine bollocks. It reeks of the ambitions of its self-important creator, crashing and burning like any good train wreck should. What wants to be a stellar psychological thriller, a movie that functions on many meaningful levels while telling a nail-biting narrative about death and disease, is actually a picture-perfect poster project for lame editing and mind-blowing mise-en-senselessness. Faux filmmaker Gregory Hatanaka has been down this befuddling bridle path before, with his Until the Night serving as another peerless example of cinematic stasis masquerading as meaningful motion picture production, reducing his actors to pawns in a purposeless game of smash cuts and disconnected references, and failing to find a single significant thing to say within his many insignificant storylines. What we end up with is excess as experimentalism, the avant-garde as an unfocused fart of a film. In essence, Hatanaka has way too many plots to pick from. At any given moment, Mad Cowgirl is a sobering drama, an erotic thriller, a dark comedy, a character study, a social commentary, a harangue on the human consumption of red meat, and a mannered martial-arts homage. Unfortunately, our director can't find his way through or out of any of these concepts, resulting in a movie that frequently plays like the cinematic equivalent of channel surfing.
In the lead, Sarah Lassez does some fine work—and she has to, since the several rival plot points all have to pass through her character's cracked psyche. It's quite a performance paradigm, and when you add in the element of expressing convincing lust for Star Trek's Walter Koenig (nothing says "sexy" like a 70-year-old genre actor), you've got the makings of a real tour de force. Unfortunately, Hatanaka undermines Ms. Lassez at every turn. Never allowing her various fits, smirks, spasms, bouts, sneers, stares, moans, and groans to add up to anything except outward exaggerations, he doesn't let us get a clear portrait of Therese. She's either certifiably insane (remember, she wants to attain warp speed, physically, with an elderly Chekov) or plagued by issues of appropriateness. When she beds her brother (or at least thinks about it; many of the scenes here are purposefully made to seem ambiguous), we fail to see the connection to her other issues. Similarly, an abusive ex-boyfriend keeps popping up at random, doing nothing more than moistening up the movie with his disturbing desperation. Along with the faked kung fu footage which appears to be a cover for some senseless serial killing on our heroine's part, and the addition of lesbianism to keep this cock-up contemporary and current, Hatanaka is like an ADD-addled kid with a 7,000 piece cinematic erector set—and he's convinced he can make every last piece fit into his overall vision.
But nothing here works—nothing. We don't care about Therese, tending to tune out the minute she starts diddling herself while Koenig carries on in full evangelist mode. Her conversations are never completed, her ideas left unexplored, and her truths half spoken while Hatanaka indulges in another Kill Bill riff. It doesn't help that the film has no balance. It's all whacked out Therese all the time. The looks at religion are also meaningless, saying things so stereotypical (men of the cloth are pervs, God is not solace but a burden) that our eyes roll back in our heads the minute our lead looks to the Lord for answers. And then there's the whole Mad Cow disease angle. If we are supposed to believe that Therese's steer heavy diet, consisting mostly of steak and steak-like items, has caused her current craziness, Hatanaka is only hinting at such a suggestion. Indeed, Mad Cowgirl consistently plays like an enigma wrapped in a riddle, placed inside a puddle of puke. The endless artificial attempts at artistry, the split-screen slop that not even Brian DePalma could make work, undermines what's already a problematic motion picture. By the end, when Therese is on her slaughter spree, carving up the ten tigers or 12 monkeys or 13 ghosts—whatever—we are just waiting for the entire enterprise to complete its stillborn substance and fade away.
From a technical standpoint, Cinema Epoch gives Mad Cowgirl a professional sheen that it really doesn't deserve. The film itself is offered in a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that's loaded with color and crammed with detail. Sure, there are some occasional defects—grain, pixelating—that give away the movie's lo-fi foundations, but overall, the picture is pretty good. Similarly, the Dolby Digital mixes—both 2.0 and a decent 5.1—are interesting, providing a small amount of ambience to what is, in essence, a totally "tone" deaf film. As for extras, we are treated to even more Hatanaka horse apples, as 30 mindless minutes of deleted scenes prove that the filmmaker doesn't understand the concept of "enough." That's confirmed via something called "Beef Sides," another collection of cut material. Most of it is behind-the-scenes snippets, but there are other elements here that indicate Hatanaka's desire to film and film, incessantly. There's an additional stills gallery, a theatrical trailer, and a collection of kung fu movie ads, listed as a "grindhouse" extra. Thankfully, we do not have to endure an audio commentary defending this dung.
Perhaps the only movie on the planet that could turn a vegetarian back toward the hoof, Mad Cowgirl is a sloppy, senseless disaster. It doesn't defy description so much as forget what film is all about. Sample this guilty tainted meat by-product at your own risk.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Cinema Epoch
• 30 Minutes of Deleted Scenes and Outtakes
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