This week, Sofia Coppola’s “The Bling Ring” features a group of young people, mostly female, who break into the homes of the rich and famous to steal their stuff, mostly for kicks. You can read our full review here, and while of course it’s a movie about celebrity obsession and the ennui of youthful privilege, it can also, in its central female characters and group dynamic, be read as an evolution of a subgenre with a decades-long spotty history: the bad girl gang movie.
As much of a fascination as cinema may have always had with the “bad girl” (the temptress, the prostitute, the adulteress, the vamp, the tramp, the scarlet woman, the moll, and lord knows how many other Theda Bara/Louise Brooks-style archetypes we could quote), it wasn’t until the emergence of teen culture in the 1950s that we saw this new offshoot really grow it wings. Combining all the potentially salacious and provocative attractions of the bad girl but multiplying them and magnifying them through the prism of herd mentality and competitiveness (basically sticking the whole lot in a peer-pressure-cooker), it’s no wonder that the earliest clear examples come in the form of exploitation cinema. Cheapie films made to fuel the confused imaginings of hormonal teen boys and to provide drive-in crowds with a suggestive backdrop for their necking sessions, “Girl Gang” led the rush in 1954, quickly followed by, among others, Roger Corman’s “Teenage Doll” (1957), “Girls on the Loose” (1958), and to our personal favorite title, “Teenage Gang Debs” (1966, trailer here), and a whole slew of other (now often near-unwatchably Z-grade) knock-offs.
But as times changed, so did the movies. While exploitation thrived underground, back upstairs in the mainstream, the concept began to make itself felt to the point that today, from cliquish high-schoolers to career criminals, the bad girl gang has countless cinematic examples. We’ve drawn up a list of 20, from films that vary wildly in quality — but of course “bad” is a relative term. In fact across all these films and “The Bling Ring” too, what marks these females apart is not so much that they are evil (in many cases in fact they’re totally justified in their actions) but that they derive their moral compass not from society in general but from their internal group dynamic. In other words, they do what they do, and screw everyone else — an attitude we might not like, but can’t help but sneakingly admire.
“Spring Breakers” (2013)
Harmony Korine’s hypnotic, neon-glowing pop odyssey is the next generation of bad girl, with the eponymous foursome deciding to hell with morality, and strapping on some weapons to turn this into the most lawless vacation in the world. Most wrote Korine’s film off as mindless cheesecake missing the idea that these girls were operating almost entirely of their own agency, even as regards to sex (as much as they talk about sexual liberation, they never actually have intercourse until the end of the film). Korine finds his trademark delicately indelicate way of establishing these girls’ relationships to each other, to their peers and ultimately to hip-hop, which they come to as though blinded by the grille of James Franco’s Alien. Eventually they graduate from pedestrian street crime to knocking off a drug lord, always playing with and often subverting notions of victimhood and power, ultimately creating a sociologically queasy reading of the indulgence and hedonism of modern spring break. But the point is made, clearly and succinctly, that Korine’s fierce foursome hold all the cards, never victims, and not saps, in spite of their materialist self-interest. [B+]
“The Craft” (1996)
In its way, “The Craft” is as emblematic of the ’90s as any of the more famous movies from the period, in no small part down to the presence of stalwarts of the teen genre like Neve Campbell, Skeet Ulrich, Robin Tunney and Breckin Meyer. The plot is ripped straight from the pages of Teen-Drama 101: Troubled new girl Sarah (Tunney) has just moved to Los Angeles with her father and stepmother. She forms a friendship with a group of girls: Bonnie (Campbell), Nancy (Fairuza Balk) and Rochelle (Rachel True). At the same time, Sarah becomes attracted to the popular Chris (Ulrich). The twist — tapping directly into the brief trend for witchcraft and all things gothic that went on around at the time — is that the girl gang are actually witches and Sarah has secret supernatural powers which the girls believe will complete their coven and make them all-powerful. Unlike other more knowing teen movies like “Clueless” and “Heathers,” “The Craft” does suffer from taking itself a bit too seriously, a condition which afflicts many teenagers, especially perhaps the kind of dilettante goths the film was vigorously trying to attract. The soundtrack is great though, and amidst all the doe-eyed mooning from the likes of Tunney and Campbell (who became the ’90s starlet du jour on the back of this) is a pretty stonking turn from Fairuza Balk, breaking away from her child-star roots with a smoky and poisonous little performance. Silly, it may be, and with some ropey special-effects, but you better believe there were gangs of pale, dark-eyed girls all over the country earnestly performing love spells in their bedrooms after they saw this movie. [C+/B-]
“Thelma & Louise” (1991)
Beyond the hilarity of seeing Chief Wiggum and Homer celebrate an “old fashioned car chase” by listening to “Sunshine Lollipops and Rainbows,” the classic Simpsons episode “Marge on the Lam” was proof that Ridley Scott’s feminist take on the outlaws on the run genre had quickly seeped into our pop culture consciousness, and its place there is deserved. Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon play the titular characters who go on the run after killing an asshole rapist, and from there the life of crime becomes a freeing, empowering statement for the pair as they fight against the male-dominated world that holds them back. The message may be broad and a little on the nose, but Scott’s direction, along with excellent performances from the leads (not to mention the ace supporting cast, and Brad Pitt’s career-changing cameo), cohere to make for one satisfying, tragic but oddly uplifting film. Nowadays, “Thelma & Louise” is yet another stark example of Scott’s more interesting early career, one which we’re afraid he’s left behind for bigger budgets and dumber scripts. [A]
“Mean Girls” (2004)
Harken back to 2003. It was a time when Rachel McAdams was known as the girl in that Rob Schneider body-switching movie “The Hot Chick,” “fetch” was not going to take off, and Lindsay Lohan was a Hollywood starlet on the rise, known for her Disney family-friendly films and stealing Aaron Carter from Hilary Duff (very shocking stuff!). In 2004, “Mean Girls” cemented Lohan as a force to be reckoned with, launched Amanda Seyfried’s career and went on to become a fun footnote when Rachel McAdams found real fame in “The Notebook.” Emblematic of a generation marked by cliquishness and well, mean girls, the Plastics ruled the school, being an updated A-squad – bitchier than the Pink Ladies without the comeuppance the Heathers got. The original Plastics (pre-Cady) consist of Karen Smith (Seyfried), whose breasts can forecast the current weather; Gretchen Weiners (Lacey Chabert), whose “hair is so big, it’s full of secrets”; and Queen Bee Regina George (McAdams), or as Janis Ian (Lizzy Caplan) puts it, “evil takes human form.” Funnily enough, Lindsay Lohan turned down the role of Regina in favor of Cady, as she was worried that it was just mean enough to damage her career. As a girl gang, the Plastics tick off most of the checklist (exclusive, hot, mean) and even have a Burn Book that is in line with their general personas and what we all remember from high school (although your popular clique probably wasn’t as bitingly funny). The twist is that through public shaming and an incident with a school bus, the Plastics actually learn and grow by the end, becoming functional members of the high school ecosystem (Regina becomes a lacrosse star, Karen is the school weather girl, Gretchen joins a more appreciative clique, and Cady becomes a mathlete) and giving hope for us all [B+]
“Runaway Daughters” (1994)
Part of an incredible, wholly unrecognized series of made-for-Showtime remakes of classic American International Pictures B-movies called “Rebel Highway,” Joe Dante‘s “Runaway Daughters,” scripted by his “Matinee“/”Gremlins 2: The New Batch” collaborator Charlie Haas, is a remake that retains the original’s period setting and general atmosphere while also subversively updating for the aforementioned made-for-Showtime audience. The girl gang in question is led by Julie Bowen, Holly Fields and Jenny Lewis (yes, THAT Jenny Lewis), who run away from the authorities and their town’s straight-laced moral enforcers after one of them claims to be pregnant. It’s a fun, micro-budgeted romp, one that reunites much of the cast of Dante’s “The Howling” (including Dee Wallace, Robert Picardo, Dick Miller and Christopher Stone) and features a candy-colored, ’50s-lite aesthetic that still allows for notions of feminism and individuality. Like everything else Dante does, his winking never gets in the way of the story, and on this evidence as regards period, it’s a shame that he and Haas were never able to make their real period epic: “Termite Terrace,” about the animators at Warner Bros. who created Bugs Bunny and the gang — they were also a bunch of outsiders who wanted to change things, except with pencils instead of switchblades. “Runaway Daughters” is definitely worth tracking down, as are a number of the other “Rebel Highway” entries (Robert Rodriguez‘s entry, “Roadracers,” just got released in a deluxe Blu-ray edition). [A-]
Oh, what a relief it was that this film was not in fact “The Hangover“-with-girls high concept the marketing team had us believe before it came out. Nobody really wanted that, did they? Thankfully screenwriter/star Kristen Wiig had plenty more on her mind with this very funny, very thoughtful look at female relationships. Even though the titular wedding party sees their wild Vegas bachelorette excursion cut short — happening in a plane sequence that’s almost experimental for its epic run time and desire to subvert expectations — they’re still a gang of ladies well worth watching as they awkwardly meet each other, shit themselves and even belt out ballads by the film’s end. Melissa McCarthy has the funny, showy role, for which she received a deserved Oscar nomination, but it’s really Wiig who stands out in a sympathetic yet complex part in which we root for her character to figure it all out even as we watch her do horrible, selfish and stupid things. It’s not that dissimilar from when “Sex and the City” went dark and showed Carrie doing really bad things (i.e. cheating with Big when he was married), and it’s just as effective and honest a portrait, perhaps even deeper, as Wiig just can’t seem to get her life in order while her best friend is worryingly moving on to bigger and better things. It’s as funny and moving as anything from the Apatow brand of dude-centric chuckles, and all the more memorable to covering territory that, to this point anyway, hadn’t been so thoroughly mined. [B+]
“Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!” (1965)
“I haven’t seen four women like this together outside of a Russ Meyer film,” Jerry opined in the episode of “Seinfeld” where Elaine tries to rat out the owner of their favorite coffee shop for only hiring big-breasted women. Anyone who’s seen this most famous of Meyer’s campy sexploitation romps, in which three women shaped like real-life versions of Jessica Rabbit go on a kill crazy rampage of sorts, knows that reference is not an exaggeration. They’re strippers by day, earning cash from a bunch of ogling buffoons and then take off on a desert road trip, each in their own badass muscle car, taking another scantily clad young woman hostage after inexplicably killing her boyfriend. It’s all very silly, but ultimately fun in a goofy, naive sorta way, never even coming close to feeling as awful as it should, given the movie’s content. So yeah, Meyer, a former Playboy centerfold photographer, was just a tad pervy, clearly obsessed with breasts, but ‘Faster Pussycat’ mostly works because the women, while objectified and framed in a comical, comic book style, are always in charge, able to kick ass and defend themselves while plotting a way to rob an old sexist pig in a wheelchair. Ladies and gentleman, welcome to violence! [B]
Well, fuck me gently with a chainsaw! While bad girl gangs have been a longtime pop cultural fascination, the Heathers Chandler, McNamara, and Duke of “Heathers” were the ones who cemented the myth of the cold, beautiful, and remorseless high school clique in the post-modern cinematic imagination, begetting “Mean Girls,” “Clueless,” “The Craft,” “Sugar and Spice,” and maybe even laying ground for “Spring Breakers.” But it wasn’t just the iconography, it’s the language too that makes the film so timeless. The bitingly funny black comedy written by Daniel Waters and directed by Michael Lehman is infinitely quotable, original and devastatingly funny — setting off a host of imitators that have never quite reached these heights. In this cynical rendering of high school life, Waters and Lehman allow that the Heathers are bitchy, scheming and materialistic, but they’re also the smartest people in the room, using their powers for their own Machiavellian manipulations. Winona Ryder‘s Veronica is the perfect foil to the Heathers, and as both the voice of reason and chaos, when she and her nihilistic and violent boyfriend J.D. (an unhinged Christian Slater) get involved in the accidental death of Head Bitch Heather Chandler (Kim Walker), setting off a suicide trend among the high schoolers who worship and fear the Heathers. And of course, “Heathers” started the career of Ultimate Bad Girl (the gold standard, really) Shannen Doherty, whose initially self-doubting Heather Duke steps up to reign supreme. “Heathers” goes where other bad girls only dream to. [A]
“Switchblade Sisters” (1975)
You either buy into this movie and its goofy dystopian, gang-ridden universe early on, as Medusa’s bellowing the (pretty awesome) “Black Hearted Woman,” or you’ll just think it’s dumb and kinda gross. There is no wrong response to Jack Hill’s exploitation pic, about a gang of high school girls first known as the Dagger Debs, the female offshoot of the Silver Daggers, who essentially run the high school but eventually take out their male counterparts and form a new crew called the Jezebels. Quentin Tarantino loved the film so much he put it out on DVD through his long-defunct Rolling Thunder Pictures label, and you can watch him nerd out embarrassingly on the commentary and bonus features where he recites the film’s quite funny dialogue in front of a horrible green screen. “Switchblade Sisters” is a great entry point into ’70s-era exploitation pictures — Hill was basically the Spielberg of these kind of movies — featuring all manner of activities that are anything but politically correct. There’s off putting, mean-spirited humor towards a heavier woman in the gang (known as Donut, ahem) and at times nasty violence, yet for the most part it’s actually funny and enjoyable. That is, if you get on its particular wavelength. [B]
A naff, tonally inconsistent knock-off of the peerless “Heathers,” “Jawbreaker” is a great film to watch for comparison if you want to see how much skill it takes to make something as seemingly effortless as the Michael Lehman classic or the other fine examinations of the high-school clique ethos like “Clueless” and “Mean Girls.” Where all of those latter films created worlds that were wholly internally consistent (be they ever so exaggerated or fucked-up), “Jawbreaker” veers manically from really quite disturbing death scene to would-be romance to makeover comedy without ever stopping to create any kind of plot logic. Marred further by poor characterization and some terrible acting (Rose McGowan is really quite bad, and Rebecca Gayheart is a cypher, so it’s left to Julie Benz and Judy Greer to up the standard, and there’s only so much they can do), the film is a frustrating disappointment for those of us who found the premise intriguing. When a “joke” kidnapping goes awry and they accidentally kill all-around dream girl and best friend Liz Purr, the remaining members of Reagan High’s ruling senior clique led by Courtney (McGowan, so much bitchface and self-conscious snarling) decide to cover it up, to which end they have to recruit mousy wallflower witness Fern (Greer) into their coven to ensure her silence. But while the plot turns cartwheels to show how, for example, Courtney seduces an unwitting guy (actually played by Marilyn Manson, bizarrely) into having sex on Liz’s bed, quite how they fool the detectives (including Pam Grier) who examine the girl’s body into believing she was raped is not gone into — and we’d rather not speculate, though perhaps we’re supposed to? For all its black heart and high body count, there is a charm and moral purpose to “Heathers” that “Jawbreaker” absolutely lacks; instead of the delicious sweetness of just desserts, it leaves a sour taste in the mouth. And quite aside from its merits as a film, “Jawbreaker” contributes nothing to the canon of high-school girl gangs that isn’t done much more insightfully elsewhere. [F]
“The Warriors” (1979)
It’s a hot night on the town, with the Warriors trying to bop their way from Pelham to the other end of the subway, the mighty C.I. But first, they have to tango with numerous gangs that seemingly run the streets, testosterone-heavy outfits that make a grand statement about owning their precious turf. Fortunately, a group of our heroes find salvation in the arms of the Lizzies, a tough group of girls that give off the impression that they are simply a group of groovy, happening broads. Think again, Warriors: the Lizzies are one of the toughest gangs in the city, and once the switchblades come out, our protagonists scamper to safety, terrified that LADIES could pose such a threat. Walter Hill‘s cultish and oddly beautiful time-capsule of late ’70s New York youth culture reimagined as a near-future tale of societal breakdown, is a lean, economic story of an odyssey to return home that glimmers and bristles with the director’s trademark violence and masculine brawn. And it features early performances from two of our favorite character actors in those brawny roles: James Remar and David Patrick Kelly. But, whatever about the boys, the Lizzies are the foils the Warriors are least expecting, and so the ones who make in some way the biggest impression… Almost got ‘em, Lizzies. [B+]
“Bad Girls” (1994)
A revisionist take on the Western myth told from the traditionally marginalized point of view of prostitutes? Yes please! And yet “Bad Girls” — no, thanks. The pulchritudinous foursome of Madeleine Stowe, Drew Barrymore, Andie McDowell and Mary Stuart Masterson play whores run out of town after Stowe’s character is rescued by the others from an impromptu hanging. But when they head into the wilderness with a price on their heads as the world’s prettiest outlaw gang en route to a New Life, they cross paths with a real gang (of robbers, murderers and rapists) who variously steal from them, taunt them, kidnap them and rape them. But despite the wild Peckinpah-style drama this might promise, the film is somehow so genteel and soft-focus, the plotting so on-the-beat predictable and the characters so one-note that nothing really snags our attention until an ill-choreographed shootout finale. The lack of depth lent any of the characters is a terrible missed opportunity. There’s The Reformed Bad Girl Leader (Stowe), The Possibly Gay One But We Don’t Dwell On That (Barrymore), The One Who Misses Her Dead Husband (Masterson) and The One Who Wants A Husband (MacDowell), and they’re all so goddamn nice, so unjustly accused, so not-to-blame for their “fallen” circumstances, that it’s hard to find a shred of agency in any of them. So while at the outset it might have seemed like it would have some sort of feminist agenda, in fact the only thing that “Bad Girls” does well is showcase the leads in a variety of sexy outfits and fetchingly disheveled hairdos. Without any sense of struggle or strength or intelligence on the part of these women, it’s actually kind of an insult, and the trappings do scant justice to the richness of the Western canon either. Frankly, it’s hard to look at this film as anything other than a larky game of dress-up for some very attractive females that sells out an interesting premise almost as soon as it sets it up. Oh, and Dermot Mulroney. [D+]
“Sin City” (2005)
Granted the world of Frank Miller’s graphic novel and Robert Rodriguez’s visually groundbreaking genre film isn’t exclusively about bad girls, but we obviously do have some outliers in this bunch and we want the fierce, bad-ass ladies here represented. Weaving in several stories from the various “Sin City” comics, one of the tales revolves around the narrative “The Big Fat Kill,” which focuses on a street war between a group of prostitutes and a group of mercenaries, the police, and the mob. Centering on a love triangle between Shellie (Brittany Murphy), her current boyfriend (played by Clive Owen) and her abusive ex-boyfriend Jackie Boy (Benicio Del Toro), this combustible dynamic spills over into Old Town where Jackie Boy makes the mistake of harassing Alexis Bledel, a young prostitute who is a member of a group of lethal, leather-bound prostitutes that includes Rosario Dawson and Devon Aoki. Jackie Boy’s death at the hands of the girls (a scene directed by Quentin Tarantino) unveils he’s actually a cop and a huge blood war erupts. There’s not really a weak section in “Sin City,” and certainly with this motley crew of actors (including Michael Clarke Duncan), “The Big Fat Kill” is certainly one of the sexier and dynamic sections overall. [B+]
“Set It Off” (1996)
In the wake of so many crime movies set in tough ghettos featuring mostly black characters — the pinnacle achieved in 1995 by the Hughes Brothers with “Dead Presidents” — it was refreshing to see one that focused on women committing the crimes. Featuring a stellar cast, led by Queen Latifah in a role that showed fairly early on what she was capable of in front of the camera, this tale of four female bank robbers is unfortunately too cliche-laden to ever achieve greatness. Basically, “Set It Off” has every trope you’ve seen in these kinds of flicks, just with black female actors front and center. While that may be surface-admirable from a diversity point of view, it’s not enough to give the movie a pass. But again, that cast is strong, with very good turns from Jada Pinkett Smith, Vivica A. Fox and Kimberly Elise. F. Gary Gray’s competent direction in the heist scenes also makes up for a film that ultimately does what it does just fine, but never pushes or upends the genre beyond its initial, headline-grabbing conceit. As such, it’s a well-intentioned movie that, around its release past the mid-’90s, saw less and less of its ilk being made. [C+]
Sure, Danny (John Travolta) and Sandy (Olivia Newton-John) are the heart of “Grease,” but Rizzo (Stockard Channing) is the SOUL of the thing, the pathos, the humor and the sarcastic best friend elbowing you in the ribs with a “get a load of these two.” Rizzo, the leader of the Pink Ladies, really gets at what the pure appeal of the bad girl is. They’re believable, relatable, sexy and fun, and Channing is all of those things as well as cynical and world-weary. In a post-modern, overtly nostalgic film like “Grease,” in which Hollywood of the late 1970s, rocked by Vietnam, hippies, and social, artistic, and industrial upheaval, attempted to recreate the safe and sanitary bubble of 1950s, Rizzo plays a very important role not only as the feminine foil to the wisp of cotton candy that is Newton-John’s Sandy, but as a self-reflexive acknowledgment of the artificiality of the entire endeavor. During “Summer Nights,” she shrugs and sighs as the girls squee in time over Danny; “Look At Me I’m Sandra Dee” is a direct send up of the Doris Day-style sexuality that was so popular in the 1950s, and “There Are Worse Things I Could Do” is an indictment of the sexuality/morality conundrum that continues to plague a society that doesn’t quite know what to do with a sexy and confident gal like Rizzo. Heady stuff for a film most often viewed at the slumber parties of middle school girls. And of course, the rest of the Pink Ladies are a treat too, from Frenchy’s (Didi Conn) “Beauty School Drop Out” dreams to Marty Marashchino’s (Dinah Manoff) vavavoom cutesiness. What “Grease” gets right is the individuality of each of the girls in the Pink Ladies, using them all to highlight a certain aspect of the story and themes. But without Rizzo, “Grease” wouldn’t be half the classic it is today. [B+]
“Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains” (1982)
Occupying a spot on the intersection between bad girl gang and band movie, more recently exemplified pretty well by Kristen Stewart‘s “The Runaways,” ‘Stains’ centers around Corinne “Third Degree” Burns, played by a very young Diane Lane, and an equally young Marin Kanter and Laura Dern (who sued for emancipation to take the role) who together are The Stains, an all-girl band who make up for their lack of musical skill with attitude. In an effort to get out of their nowhere-nothing town, they talk their way onto a tour with aging glam rockers, The Metal Corpses, and their punk opening band, The Looters (played by Sex Pistols Steve Jones and Paul Cook, Paul Simonon from The Clash, with Ray Winstone as their singer). The Stains inspire girls everywhere, who copy their look and sayings, but their quick rise to fame has an equally quick descent. Despite its punk attitude, the movie has an overall bitter tone to it, with director Lou Adler making fun of everyone in sight, from the dimwitted media and the aging self-obsessed rockers, to the fair-weather audiences and yes-man managers. The film had a limited theatrical run on release, but found fans on late night cable, and the sole remaining print of the film has been kept in circulation. A cult classic for sure, it found a wider audience via its DVD release in 2008, and remains one of the best all-girl band movies with original tunes to match, unlike most music movies. “Ladies and Gentleman, The Fabulous Stains” has been credited as the missing link between punk rock and riot grrrl, but one thing’s for sure: its hard to not to be inspired by Burns. She’s a sight to behold with skunk mullet, red and black eye make up, equal parts bitch and pout, and is endlessly quotable if you can find the right opportunity to say: “I’m perfect, but no one in this shit hole gets me, because I don’t put out.” [B]
Marking the directorial debut of Adrian Lyne (who would go on to make such steamy classics as “Flashdance” “Fatal Attraction” “9 ½ Weeks” and, um, “Jacob’s Ladder“), “Foxes” tells the story of four female outcasts (Kandice Stroh, Marilyn Kagan, Cherie Currie and Jodie Foster) who bond over their generally shitty lives while living in the San Fernando valley in the late ’70s. (Although released in 1980 this is a totally ’70s movie, complete with a Giorgio Moroder soundtrack – even the movie’s theme song was a jazzy instrumental version of Donna Summer‘s “On the Radio.”) The trailer for “Foxes” is kind of sleazy and exploitative, with the narrator leeringly saying that they’re “not exactly the girls next door,” but the movie takes some dramatic turns (*SPOILER* one of them dies) and tackles some big issues, like abusive parents and illicit substances. It’s unfortunate that the film is saddled with such a sexist title (it’s based on an Angel song they play in the movie), considering how feminist the movie’s ideals and imagery really are. Or maybe that makes it even more subversive? [B+]
“Death Proof” (2007)
Quentin Tarantino’s half of the “Grindhouse” double-bill itself plays out in two parts, the second so infinitely superior to the first that it almost feels like a comment on all the ways the first gets it wrong. Almost. Sleazy Stuntman Mike (a reptilian Kurt Russell) gets off on using his phallic stunt car to surprise, stun, and demolish beautiful women in the cold night air, escaping with wolfish glee. Little does he know, however, that he’s about to crash right into a group of beautiful daredevils fresh off a film shoot, headed by a stuntwoman (Zoe Bell) who doesn’t know when too fast is too fast. Tarantino’s breakneck road movie lulls you with quiet dialogue scenes and moments of meta-irony as it evolves from disreputable, misogynist genre fare into more modern, corrective retribution, with the trio (Bell, Rosario Dawson, Tracie Thoms) taking Stuntman Mike from behind, delivering a dismantling that calls to mind the history of exploitation films, with cold hard men and the beautiful women who serve as their listless prey. But while the second part of the the film is definitely worthy of rehabilitation and would on its own merit a high grade, most of us (except Gabe perhaps) can’t find it in our hearts to forgive the awfulness of the first hour or so, and thus, the rating is dragged down to a mediocre [B-/C+].
“Sucker Punch” (2011)
How much do we hate this “original” Zack Snyder joint? Let us count the ways: 1. My God, stop with the excessive slow motion already!
2. Worst. Soundtrack. Ever. Some awful “Where is My Mind” cover while a character is brought to an insane asylum, are you fucking kidding me?
3. Speed ramping, noooooo!
4. Ugly, garish and flat visuals that never look good. Sure, you may think it looks cool, but you’d be wrong.
5. Why is Carla Gugino doing a Russian accent?
6. Its silly, convoluted fantasy structure is boring, because there’s nothing at stake, so why should we give a shit what happens? Too late, we don’t.
7. No matter how many passionate defenses of the movie we come across (they are out there, believe it or not), we’ve never been convinced it’s anything other than an unintentionally hilarious, hackneyed vision of geek director indulgence. For better or worse (definitely worse), this is what unfiltered Snyder looks and sounds like.
8. Awkward, laughable transitions from “reality” to “fantasy” are as smooth as sandpaper.
9. Ludicrous script.
10. It has the gall to think it’s a smart, feminist take on geek culture/tropes, but it fails miserably on almost every count, taking everything potentially empowering about the concept of the girl gang and putting it in service of a stupid man-child-geek fantasy. [D-]
“She-Devils on Wheels” (1968)
That the tagline for this late-’60s sexploitation flick is “See! Female Hellcats Ruling Their Men With Tire-Irons As Their Instruments Of Passion!” should maybe tell you all you need to know about the film. But there is quite some camp (maybe stoned-off-your-face) pleasure to be found now in the terrible acting and laughable plotting of this rival-bike-gang movie. And even with all its hokey creakiness (at times it’s hard to hear the dialogue over the ambient wind or motorbike engines — possibly a good thing for fans of people-talking-like-human-beings) there is still more genuine subversion here than in probably the rest of the list put together, with the titular She-Devils (actually a gang called the Man-Eaters) not just proving their superiority to their male counterparts in racing terms, but also during the bewildering orgy-style antics that go on afterward. And the moral, when one of them has to choose between a potential male lover and the spiky embrace of her girl gang, and goes for the latter, is actually surprisingly warm and progressive, setting it possibly above slicker, more recent fare than “Sucker Punch” for example. Still, approach, if at all, with irony gland fully functional. [C-]
There are a good few we know of that we’ve missed, notably Angelina Jolie vehicle “Foxfire” in which she forms a bond with other teenage girls after they take revenge on a sexually abusive teacher, and the Allison Anders movie “Mi Vida Loca” about the evolution of a hispanic girl gang in a poor urban neighborhood. Kristen Stewart‘s recent Joan Jett biopic “The Runaways” would qualify too, as would 1984 curio “Desperate Teenage Lovedolls,” which chronicles the rise and fall of an all-girl punk band in a barely-above-home-movie style. In the exploitation vein, Troma weighed in with “Chopper Chicks in Zombietown,” which we’re not sure we need more than the title to understand, while nasty Britflick “Sket” focuses on girl gangs in London and aspires to Noel Clarke-style gritty urban realism but falls short. At the opposite end of the spectrum we find “D.E.B.S.” which is such high-concept idiocy (a gang of plaid-skirt-wearing hottie schoolgirls including Jordana Brewster are recruited by the CIA) that we can’t believe not one Playlister has seen it, but if they have, they’re not owning up. And documentary “Don’t Need You: The Herstory of Riot Grrrl” sounds like it might be an interesting factual accompaniment, even if the title kind of makes us want to cry.
And there are some films we skipped simply because the bad girl gangs they feature don’t form a pivotal enough part of the overall story, like “13 Going On 30” (in which case the Six Chicks are very similar to the myriad school cliques we have mentioned) and Jimmy Fallon/Queen Latifah vehicle (!) “Taxi,” which features a gang of Brazilian supermodel bank robbers (led by Gisele Bundchen). Feel free to point out any more, but be warned, we’ve our switchblades tucked in our denims, our sisters’ve got our backs and we’re feeling… empowered. —Gabe Toro, Erik McClanahan, Katie Walsh, Drew Taylor, Rodrigo Perez, Sam Chater, Kieran McMahon, Jessica Kiang, Diana Drumm