Erin Cummings (Hel), America Olivo (Camero) and Julia Voth (Trixie)
Bitch Slap is bad. And, pretty much, that’s the point. The only question is if it’s bad-bad, good-bad or a very, very bad girl?
Billed as an homage to the B-movie exploitation flicks of yore, it’s less of a movie and more of an excuse for sexy, ridiculous and violent things to happen on screen – preferably all at once. Depending on how wedded you are to cohesive narratives, you will find this totally unacceptable or completely awesome.
The premise is a simple one: three foxy ladies head to the desert in search of a kingpin’s hidden stash of $200 million in diamonds. We are introduced to calculating ringleader Hel (Erin Cummings), unstable muscle Camero (America Olivo) and helpless stripper Trixie (Julia Voth) via their décolletage. No, really.
Filmed with a nudge-nudge and a wink, the scene both pokes fun at the inherent “Hey, my eyes are up here”-ness of the setup while simultaneously encouraging us to wallow in the unavoidable greatness of these women’s breasts. Make no mistake, these are some great breasts.
In fact, cleavage could be the uncredited fourth lead in the film, alongside Cummings, Olivo and Voth. Instead of deftly walking the line between exploitation and empowerment, Bitch Slap grinds its stilettoed heel sharply into it with tongue planted firmly – well – somewhere.
Along the way, the backstory unfolds in Memento-style flashbacks. Everyone has secrets. Everyone is working an angle. Everyone looks hot in really tiny tops. People will get crossed, double-crossed and caught in the cross-fire. Also, stuff blows up real good.
Hell, even Lucy Lawless and Renée O’Connor show up for about a minute – as nuns, naturally. In fact, the whole thing is a de facto Xena: Warrior Princess and Hercules: The Legendary Journeys reunion with Kevin Sorbo, Michael Hurst and Xena stunt double Zoe Bell all joining in on the fun. The shows’ former producer and director Eric Gruendemann and Rick Jacobson co-wrote and directed Bitch Slap.
While Bitch Slap has the best intentions of tweaking past genre films, it can’t help but linger too long amidst its baser instincts. A defter hand is needed, but instead we get sticky fingers.
Yet for a film that prides itself on having more jiggle than a Jell-O convention, it never goes all the way. The stars stay clothed throughout, though that’s a bit of a misnomer considering how little clothing they have on in the first place. And the violence, while lengthy and well choreographed by Bell, never really shocks or awes.
The pleasant exception is the extended make-out session between Hel and Trixie which is an enjoyably literal interpretation of the saying, “If this trailer’s rocking, don’t come knocking.” The lesbian content is not subtext here, it’s maintext. Even better, no one has to get drunk or is experimenting or just trying to make a boyfriend jealous.
While the scene will surely play well with male audiences, it should play just as well with the gay ladies. In fact, I foresee countless lesbian and bisexual households enjoying their own literal interpretation of a different saying, “Be kind, rewind.”
Ultimately what saves this carnival of titillation, blood and convoluted plot points from the bottom of the trash barrel is the actresses’ obvious glee at their predicament. They’re in on the joke, which is crucial. Though, I do wish for their sake that the jokes were a bit funnier.
Still, most important, the women are the ones in charge. They are the ones doing pretty much all of the plotting and pummeling, even if it is often against each other. Sure, by the time the inevitable twist comes in in the third act, it’s as subtle as a wet T-shirt contest. But by then you’ve turned off the section of your brain that cares or turned on Bill Moyers Journal.
The trio (particularly cool, calm and collected Cummings – give that girl her own action movie) seem to relish their roles. Beautiful women on screen are always powerful, it’s just that most movies don’t let them to wield it themselves. Bitch Slap lets them wield everything – big-ass guns, seemingly endless supplies of chains, 600-year-old samurai swords and even killer yo-yos.
So how will an educated, enlightened, post-feminist, pro-gay audience of women react to all the slo-mo water fighting, bare-knuckle brawling and girl-on-girl groping?
I’ll let the movie dialogue speak for itself here. Either “This is crazy. I’ve had enough. I want to go home.” or “Don’t ever apologize for being you.”
Bitch Slap “Unrated” is currently available on DVD and VOD.