Bad Girls' is bad 'Wild Bunch' and a bad idea By: Stephen Hunter

April 22, 1994|By Sun Film Critic

I hate to go out on a limb like this but I think Jonathan Kaplan, the director of "Bad Girls," just may have seen "The Wild Bunch."

For anyone familiar with the great 1969 Peckinpah picture, "Bad Girls" will seem like the revisionist Bennington version. Visually, it's Sam Peckinpah's trashy, sad, run-down West; and you keep seeing dimmer versions of "Wild Bunch" themes and imagery: a train robbery, a wagon loaded with stolen guns, a machinegun, a tortured hostage, a quartet of determined gringo gunfighters heading through a ruined Mexican fortress for a last big gunfight.

And the the gun fighters, far from being romantic, are beat-up, dirty and exhausted. They also happen to be women.

It gets crazier. In some ways, the film is less a story than a "Bunch" Jeopardy category. "Wild Bunch," for a hundred please. "A: You can kiss my sister's black cat's ---." "Q: What did Crazy Lee say just before the citizens blew him away in "The Wild Bunch," that James Russo repeats word for word in "Bad Girls"?

The problem in all this, of course, is that if you want to see "The Wild Bunch," you should rent "The Wild Bunch" rather than going to "Bad Girls," which, on its own, isn't much.

This outfit consists of Madeleine Stowe in the William Holden role, and Andie MacDowell, Mary Stuart Masterson and Drew Barrymore not, alas, as Ben Johnson, Ernie Borgnine and Warren Oates, but pretty much as Andie MacDowell, Mary Stuart Masterson and Drew Barrymore.

Only Stowe's flintiness comes through; the others are really not playing characters because no characters have been written for them. The end result of their work appears to be one of those behind-the-scene pieces they do on "Entertainment Tonight," where they giggle and schmooze for the camera. And can anyone please tell me the point of putting Drew Barrymore in a film called "Bad Girls" and having her play . . . a good girl?

In any event, as the movie opens, Stowe, a hardened prostitute, is about to be hung for shooting a town burgher who was getting carried away with another prostitute. Her three compadres come to free her in what must be the dullest rescue ever photographed, and soon the four are roaming the range, heading for the town of "Agua Dulce" -- in "Wild Bunch," the town was "Agua Verde", meaning sweet water (perfume) vs. green water (scum) -- where Stowe had been banking her money and has the $12,000 that will bankroll their new life.

At the precise moment of withdrawal, however, a gang of cutthroats led by Russo, Stowe's ex-lover, rob the bank and the 12 grand. When Stowe goes to retrieve it, she's raped and beaten and cast out.

The plotting, as you can surmise, is a little raggedy. The screenwriters get hung up on the motif of hostages and hostage exchanges, which means that various members of the boy gang keep capturing members of the girl gang at the same time members of the girl gang keep capturing members of the boy gang. It all leads inexorably to the big shootout, and allow me to confirm what you probably already know: Jonathan Kaplan is no Sam Peckinpah.

I will say that the pleasures of the western somehow transcend the execution of any particular western, and that's the case here: There's nothing particularly enjoyable about the movie except that it is a western -- horses, blue jeans, guns, dusty deserts, blue snaggily mountains, some archetypal confrontations. It doesn't matter which sex is on the horse or slapping leather to get Col. Colt's equalizer into play, it's still nice to be back in the saddle again.

But what's next? An all-guy "The Women"?

"Bad Girls"

Starring Madeline Stowe and Drew Barrymore

Directed by Jonathan Kaplan

Released by 20th Century Fox



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