Combustible Celluloid
 

Barb Wire (1996)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Mi Casablanca, Su Casablanca

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Buy Barb Wire on DVD.

I like Pamela Anderson Lee, but I don't know why, exactly. "Sexy" and "beautiful" are not words I'd use to describe her. Maybe it's because she's like a well-drawn cartoon, one of Bill Ward's women, or Betty and Veronica. Maybe it's because she's like a female Arnold Schwarzenegger, easy on the eyes and built like a pleasure robot, but not the slightest bit real.

Nonetheless, she makes a perfect movie star, as long as it's B-movie material, like the new film Barb Wire. (Schwarzenegger also did his best work before he became a Hollywood A-player.) There isn't a scene that Anderson-Lee walks through that didn't grab my attention. Her acting isn't really acting; she adopts the Clint Eastwood man-with-no-name hardened shell and whisper delivery, and it works. Also, watching her kick ass and fearlessly parading around town, you get the idea that she's really like that. For this movie, she learned to ride a motorcycle, took kickboxing lessons, learned to shoot automatic weapons and got a permanent "barbed wire" tattoo on her upper arm. And, she does all of her own stunts. In heels. (Nicolas Cage, eat your heart out.)

The writers of this movie had a great idea. They loosely adapted the classic Casablanca (1942) for their comic book hero. Lee's Barb fits perfectly into the Rick Blaine role (originally played by Humphrey Bogart). Instead of letters of transit, everyone in Barb Wire is after a pair of contact lenses that lets anyone pass through any retina scan. Barb plans to use them herself, but along comes the Victor Laslo character who needs them more. There's even a Sidney Greenstreet character; a fat blob that rides around in the scoop of a tractor and eats chicken legs.

Director David Hogan is an adequate filmmaker. He uses lots of Taxi Driver-esqe overhead shots, and some shaky-cam shots here and there. You can see the action, for the most part, which is basically all I ask of a movie like this. There is the scene at the end of the movie where the guy (in the Ingrid Bergman role), already occupying safe territory, goes back to help Barb fight off the bad guys. I was worried that the movie would wimp out and have the guy save Barb's butt. But it works out that all he does is give her a hand, and she does all the hard work. An interesting sex role-reversal that never would have happened in an A-movie.

The movie also manages a casting coup with the great Udo Kier in the "Sam" role; Barb's faithful assistant at the bar. Kier is a veteran of Andy Warhol's Dracula and Frankenstein movies, as well as the softcore movie The Story of O (1976), Dario Argento's Suspiria (1977), Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980), Gus Van Sant's My Own Private Idaho (1991), and Lars von Trier's The Kingdom (1994).

I'm glad now that I didn't see Barb Wire in the theater, because the laserdisc is the "unrated" version and comes with several minutes of "sexy footage" of Lee dancing topless on stage and being sprayed with water in slow motion. It's really hot. Some of this footage is used during the opening titles, and there is a quick breast flash about two thirds in. Barb Wire is like a Russ Meyer movie, unashamed of its passion for shapely women. Hmm. A Russ Meyer movie meets Casablanca. Dare I say, it's the best hybrid of the year?

Starring: Pamela Anderson (Lee), Temuera Morrison, Victoria Rowell, Udo Kier, Clint Howard, Steve Railsback, Xander Berkeley
Written by: Chuck Pfarrer, Ilene Chaiken
Directed by: David Hogan
MPAA Rating: R/Unrated
Running Time: 99 minutes
Date: September 13, 1996

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