EVEN COWGIRLS GET THE BOOS

The title characters of Bad Girls are a quartet of fugitive whores in the Old West. Three of them (Andie MacDowell, Drew Barrymore, Mary Stuart Masterson) daringly rescue the fourth (Madeleine Stowe) from an unjust hanging, and the women take off across country on the lam, planning to settle in Oregon and open a sawmill. They make this plan around a campfire at night, four breathtaking beauties with big hair, plucked eyebrows and designer cowgirl ensembles. To show us what a hard ride they've had, their faces are smudged--with Studio-Smudge from L'Or‚al, one assumes. Oh, so what, you say? So what if the stars of Bad Girls are dolled-up as if for a boardwalk joke photo? So what if Bad Girls is an absurd fantasy when it comes to historical verisimilitude? Many of the most enjoyable Westerns are, you remind me. True enough. Nothing is wrong with the Old West of cinematic convention, as long as it's not mistaken for the real Old West--it's a venerable fairy-tale country, indigenously American, which offers a stark backdrop for just about every kind of story. Bad Girls could have been fun. But, to put it as laconically as the genre demands, it ain't. Although the high-octane pulchritude of the stars is the obvious marketing motivation behind the film, there's nothing terribly wrong with the basic idea of the plot--it worked, after all, in Thelma & Louise. The wizened widow (Zoaunne LeRoy) of the man that Stowe was to be hanged for killing hires Pinkerton goons to chase her. This widow looks like a promising villain--an implacable, dried-up puritan antagonist for a band of tarts with hearts of gold, a real bad ol' girl herself. But disappointingly, after she commissions Stowe's killing, she doesn't reappear. The villainy duties thereafter fall to James Russo as a vicious gang honcho (and enthusiastic rapist) and Robert Loggia as his more quietly sinister father (a more quietly enthusiastic rapist), who are herded into the story out of the back forty. Russo is a fine ham, and Loggia is a real actor, but these guys don't seem very at home on the range, and the behavior of their characters is illogical even from the standpoint of practical evil. These banditos wreck the movie, both dramatically--because they turn the plot from a chase story into a ludicrous muddle of hostage-takings and reprisals--and thematically, because they turn the hard-ridin' harlots from tough heroines into victims, which precludes the film's even having much value as camp fun. Matters aren't helped by the obligatory sympathetic men that the gals acquire along the way, blankly played by Dermot Mulroney and James LeGros, a couple of young actors who normally show quite considerable slacker suavity. Bad Girls was directed by Jonathan Kaplan of The Accused, a film that enjoys a much higher reputation than it deserves, because it had a powerful subject and was built around the truly wonderful performance of Jodie Foster. Kaplan's best work in Bad Girls is in the action sequences, which he manages briskly if soullessly. During these shoot-outs, we at least don't have to listen to Ken Friedman and Yolande Finch's laughable dialogue. Of the four stars, only Stowe manages to overcome it, probably because she has the most terse of the lines. She can really act, but so can Masterson, though she's sometimes a bit affected, and so, probably, could Barrymore, if she got the chance and the right help. MacDowell can't, but even she can at least be helped to a certain naturalistic charm at times. Not here, however. Bad Girls doesn't have one scene that feels authentic, either to history or to the sensibility of the cinema Western. It's less a movie than a distaff Western-wear photo shoot.

 
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