Wednesday, September 16, 2009

TIFF Review - Bitch Slap

The opening credits of Bitch Slap scream "THIS IS A RUSS MEYER SEXPLOITATION TRIBUTE!" It even holds up this premise for a while before it suffers from absent-mindedness and keeps forgetting the point.

Rick Jacobson and Eric Gruendemann met on the set of Xena: Warrior Princess. Jacobson was directing, and Gruendemann was producing. They continued working on the series and stayed friends. Eventually, they decided they wanted to make a film that was all theirs.

According to Jacobson, he figured he wanted to do something balls-to-the-wall fun and outrageous in the style of Meyer, and started checking off ways to make it as cheap as possible. Desert setting meant no permits required. Friends in most of the roles meant a bunch of fun. It all started coming together, and he showed Gruendemann who decided it needed to be MORE outrageous.

And so Bitch Slap was born. The opening credits are scenes straight from the golden era of exploitation flicks. A brief pre-credit scene already shows us where we'll end up - in flames and destruction. From there, it's cheesy fun. For a while. The three protagonists - all hot, curvaceous women, slowly emerge from their genre-appropriate car, with more camera time spent on their chests than their faces.

Guns are out almost immediately, and Gage (Michael Hurst - AKA Iolaus from Hercules), a sleazy crime-boss, is tortured for information on where his treasure is buried. It goes downhill from there for the girls. A cop shows up, more bad guys appear, secrets are revealed to the audience, and everyone is afraid the notorious "Pinky" will show up and kill them all.

For a while, the movie holds on to its roots, but eventually, the tricks being used get tired. The Snyder-esque slow-motion shots, the attempts at Tarantino-esque dialogue, and the seemingly ENDLESS green screen flashbacks start inducing groans instead of laughs. The obsession with showing outrageous scenes (although the gunfight on the Vegas strip is pretty awesome for a Vegas-lover), driving home the "twists", the poor placement of dialogue (rants, curses, and conversations are often overwhelmed by sound effects or music), take away from the movie. At times the filmmakers try too hard.

Luckily, these shortcomings are wiped away by more over-the-top camp. The fight scenes, choreographed by stunt woman extraordinare Zoe Bell, are awesomely over-the-top, with high kicks, flips, punches to places you just aren't supposed to punch, and bloody heaps of she-meat lying in the desert sand gasping for air, coughing up blood, and begging for more.

And the cameos - well, considering the pedigree of those in charge, it should come as no surprise that nearly every major actor from the Xena/Hercules pantheon makes an appearance. Sadly, I don't recall Bruce Campbell being in there, but then he was always friends with Raimi/Tapert tandem in those series. Sad, because he'd be the capper (albeit a cliché one) to a movie that puts itself so solidly in the "B" category.

It's not a perfect movie, but it is still a whole bunch of fun. It takes the ideas of the classic sexploitation reels and for the most part modernizes them admirably. The "sex" is a bit more graphic (but still more titillation than pornography - there's just about zero nudity in the film), the stunts are wilder, the camp as over-the-top as you'd want it, and there are some pretty creative insults thrown back and forth.

The Q&A afterwards was easily the best I've been to this year, and undoubtedly one of the top ones I've seen in my 7 (or is it 8?) years of doing TIFF. The creators obviously don't take themselves too seriously, and the four main actresses couldn't have been more easy-going and happy to be there. Jokes about the filming, flirting with each other and the audience, tossing out saucy and sassy lines off the cuff, and relating the numerous bumps and bruises they sustained (and I dare you to find another Q&A with as many vaginal injuries being described). Throw in a gushing Zoe Bell (who got the biggest round of applause from the audience) who obviously loves where her career is going, and it was worth the fight with my brain and body the next morning when I had to get up on 3 1/2 hours of sleep.

I have a feeling that this will make my collection. For a movie that's marketed as a fun exploitation film, it's jam-packed with movie references and jokes that demand a second viewing. It's not layered by any means, but it can be such an assault on the senses that you miss a bunch the first time through. Hell, I need to rewatch the closing credits just for the fake porn names and jokes. Between people standing up to leave and the distracting webcam videos playing in the background, a guy can get sidetracked. Yes, webcam videos - obviously a commentary on what exploitation has become today, and a bookend that drives home their attempt to modernize the genre. You know what? They're not wrong on that point.

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