Barb Wire (1996) (part 1 of 11)
Now, here’s a wild cast for you, full of Repeat Offenders, soon-to-be Repeat Offenders, a guy from a Star Wars movie, and another guy from 24, all led by the utterly untalented Pamela Anderson (actually, Pamela Anderson Lee at the time) in a film that’s a blatant rip-off of one of the most cherished movies of all time.
This review is part of Casablanca Month, during which I’ll examine two movies that find various ways to bite, borrow, and steal from the classic 1942 film Casablanca starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman.
The other film I’ll be reviewing, Overdrawn at the Memory Bank, is more of an homage than an outright rip-off. (A terrible homage, but an homage nonetheless.) It looks even more so when compared to Barb Wire, which shamelessly copies nearly every character, situation, and plot point directly from Casablanca.
The only differences between this movie and the Bogart film (besides sucking really bad) is that several of the roles have been gender-swapped, and the setting has been updated from wartime Morocco to cyberpunk America in the year 2017. And, of course, lots of chase scenes and fight sequences have been shoved in to sell it as an action movie.
Therein lies the reason Barb Wire turned out so awful. Casablanca is many things to many people. It’s a love story, it’s a patriotic film, it’s an exotic story of drama and intrigue, it’s a movie about defying the Nazi scourge that was then spreading across Europe. But one thing it most definitely is not is an action movie.
I don’t know how the idea for the Barb Wire script came about, because the DVD is of course completely devoid of extras (except for a mind-numbing collection of “sexy outtakes” that I’ll mention later). But if I had to guess, I’d say the script was purely a product of laziness.
Obviously, somebody read a few issues of the Dark Horse comic book Barb Wire, saw the superficial similarities to Casablanca (the lead character owns a bar in a “free city” terrorized by a fascist regime), and decided to simply transfer, with very little alterations, every aspect of Casablanca into this script.
The resemblance is so obvious, I don’t know how they got away with not crediting Casablanca writers Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein, and Howard Koch for the story. But I’m sure those three men and all of their next of kin are eternally grateful.
Similarly, our star Pamela Anderson may be a lot of things: A model, a Playboy centerfold, a TV actress, and sometimes even an animal rights activist. But one thing she most definitely is not is an action star. She’s far too thin, too awkward, too girlie-girlie, and too surgically enhanced to come across as the kind of kick-ass heroine Barb Wire needed to be. As we’ll soon see, she can barely even run in heels without needing a stunt double. And I think it goes without saying she can’t act worth a damn.
To be totally honest, I don’t get Pam Anderson’s appeal in the first place. Okay, yes, she has big giant knockers. But so do a lot of other talentless former Playmates who date Scott Baio for a year before moving on to scummy rock stars. I don’t know why Pam in particular got to be so famous, but famous she became, mostly due to her presence on what used to be the most watched TV series in the world, Baywatch.
These days, she’s famous exclusively for her real-life antics with ex-husband Tommy Lee, getting the occasional award from PETA, and partying with her new boyfriend Kid Rock. But in 1996, Pam Anderson was all over the airwaves and magazines, so movie stardom must have seemed like the logical next step, as well as a sure thing. But as we all know, and as Barb Wire proves once again, there’s no such thing as a “sure thing” in Hollywood.
Casablanca Month will be of particular interest to fans of Mystery Science Theater 3000 for a couple of reasons. First of all, Overdrawn at the Memory Bank is the subject of one of MST3k‘s most popular episodes. (Probably because it was one of the most aired episodes, being one of the few films that the Sci-Fi Channel held the rights to air until the bitter end.) But there’s a good reason MSTies will also want to see Barb Wire get trashed.
At the time this film came out, distributor Gramercy Pictures had two major releases on their schedule. The first was Barb Wire, and the second was Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie. Gramercy had limited funds, so they did the only thing they could: They put all of their marketing money behind Pam Anderson, and dumped MST3k in the theaters with no advertising whatsoever. As a result, MST3k tanked. (Even still, in its first weekend it had a higher per-theater average than even the number one movie in the country. So, just imagine the business it could have done if people had actually known it was out.)
Barb Wire flopped, too, but of course it was a much more spectacular flop. It’s hard to know why anyone thought this movie would be successful. They were obviously going for the same campy tone that pervaded Pam’s TV show V.I.P., but what they forgot is that for a movie to be camp, it has to be fun. And Barb Wire is not a fun movie in any sense of the word.
There’s absolutely no twist, no event, no plot point in this movie that you don’t see coming from a mile away. Even taking away all the stuff ripped off from Casablanca, you’ll still feel like you’ve seen this movie before. So, you better get used to me saying “of course”, “as you’d expect”, and “naturally” a lot in this review.
Well, the movie opens, and as you’d probably expect (there you go), an Ominous Distant Wailing Guitar Note is held in the background. If memory serves, it’s the same note last heard innumerable times in The Howling: New Moon Rising. The Curse of the Opening Crawl strikes again as the following words are superimposed over a red, rocky landscape.
| STEEL HARBOR, 2017
THE SECOND AMERICAN CIVIL WAR
Then the remainder of the opening crawl scrolls up the screen while a male voice recites them, for the benefit of all of Ms. Anderson’s fans who can’t read this fast.
Meanwhile, we appear to be on Viking 6 in geostatic orbit over the Martian equator. Random sounds of gunfire and explosions echo in the background as Pam’s credit is shown. Then the image of the Martian landscape literally swings up, treating us to an overdone CGI Barb Wire logo, complete with the expected burst of light.
Instantly, the camera pans up the leather-clad body of Pamela Anderson. Now, I doubt this will come as a surprise to anyone reading this, but she’s dressed like a total skank here. She’s wearing a leather tube dress with a zipper down the front, and it’s zipped down so far that her boobs are already falling out. Maybe I don’t get out enough, but I have never, ever met a woman who would actually wear something like this on a day other than Halloween.
Spotlights dance all around her as she tosses her hair around, and, yep, right on cue, here comes the gushing water as Pam gets hosed down from both sides.
Meanwhile, a crap metal tune plays in the background. And, God help us, it’s a hard rock cover of “Word Up”. Just what the world needed, crap metal covers of Cameo songs. Pam continues dancing, and it only takes a few more seconds for her nipples to be fully exposed. Total time from start of movie to bare nipples: 1 minute, 53 seconds. Hey, when you’ve got Pamela Anderson, why waste time?
Then there’s about fifty different angles of Ms. Anderson tossing her wet hair around. We get a brief glimpse of the guys hosing her down, who turn out to be two guys in tuxes covered with clear plastic raincoats. Behind them, a number of tux-clad extras sit at tables in a dim nightclub and applaud. Meanwhile, I learn just how ridiculous the phrase “All you suckah DJ’s who think you’re fly” sounds in a hard rock context.
Finally, Pam gets up on a trapeze [!] while still being hosed down from either side. Eventually, she’s upside down with her boobs completely hanging out. Well, they don’t really “hang” at all, if you get my drift. At least, they haven’t since the early 90’s.
A patron flinches as he’s doused with water coming off of Pammie’s hair. There’s plenty of strobe light action and slow-motion flipping of wet hair, while the song in the background implores us to “Dial ‘L’ for love.” Sorry, but I was actually thinking more about dialing ‘M’ for murder right about now.
So what this sequence appears to be trying to prove is that Pam Anderson has very large breasts. I mean, I really wish I could be more descriptive, but what can I say? It’s a wet Pam Anderson writhing around and fondling her implants. If you like that sort of thing, you’ll love this credit sequence. Unfortunately, I’m kind of indifferent to Pam and her “charms”.
And I know this statement will generate a lot of speculation on my sexual preference, but the only thought in my head right now is I had no idea they made cosmetics that actually stay on even while a woman is being hosed down. Must be the special L’Oreal Skank line made especially for strippers and former Playboy Playmates. When you get boob implants, they must give you a lifetime supply on your way out of the clinic.
All throughout Pam’s act, there’s been one guy in the audience screaming and yelling for her to take everything off. Which one wouldn’t see as all that unreasonable, given the circumstances, right? Pam, however, thinks different, and gets indignant about the guy’s catcalls. Because when you’re performing on a stage that actually requires a drainage system, you have every right to be outraged when the clientele shows a lack of class.
Pam reaches down and takes off one of her platform stiletto heels. The guy yells, “Come on, babe!” and Pam flings her shoe at the guy. And yes, the heel of her shoe ends up embedded in the guy’s skull, right between his eyes. Because it’s just that kind of movie.
The guy falls backwards, and everyone laughs and cheers. The curtain falls and Pam walks backstage, grumbling about people calling her “babe”. Being set off by the word “babe”, unfortunately, is going to be Barb’s little recurring character quirk. So if you’re taking the SAT, and you get to the analogies section, and the question is “Barb Wire : Babe”, the answer would be “Marty McFly : Chicken”.
Meanwhile, the guy with the shoe in his face is dragged out by bouncers in tuxes. Gosh, I hope that guy’s alright. And so ends the over five-minute [!] sequence of Pam cavorting around naked. If you think that’s excessive, don’t look at that “sexy outtakes” feature on the DVD, which consists of nothing but outtakes from just this scene that go on for over ten minutes [!!].
Meanwhile, in the audience, a guy who’s got “crime boss” written all over him is approached by a rabbit-looking guy. Rabbit Face has on a black shirt and purple tie underneath a black jacket. Yeah. With that ensemble, he might as well just put a sign on his back saying “MOB TOADIE”.
Rabbit Face tells the mob boss, a guy by the name of “Mr. Santo”, that his “special order” has arrived. Mr. Santo asks about “the blonde with the guns”, but Rabbit Face says Pam is new and he hasn’t had a chance to “feel her out” yet. Instead, he insists Mr. Santo will be happy with his “special order”, because “she’s as tender as Tuscan veal!” And you know how tender Tuscan veal is, don’t you? Especially if you’re one of the few people paying to see a movie starring Pamela Anderson.
Mr. Santo waves him off while we hear a relatively decent song, “Spill the Wine” getting massacred in the background. Cut to the Stripper Dressing Room. Pam walks in and is greeted by two other strippers who look even sluttier than Pam, which I didn’t even realize was possible until this very moment.
One stripper asks how the crowd is out there, and Pam says, “Wet.” Which would be a risqué comment, if it made any sense. A stripper who’s made up like a geisha starts speaking in French, so the other stripper explains this by saying, “She’s Chinese!” Um, yeah. If I actually have to comment on moments like this in my review, I’m going on strike, so I think it’s best for all of us if I just move on.
Rabbit Face enters and compliments Pam’s performance. Except he doesn’t use the word “performance”, because that doesn’t really apply to anything Pam does in this movie. Rabbit Face asks to speak to Pam alone in his office about “coming back” and blows a kiss as he leaves.
Pam, now clad in a tight black camisole, strolls through the strip club’s kitchen and heads to the door of a walk-in freezer. It’s locked with a padlock, so she retrieves a metal tool from her bag. But before she can pick the lock, she’s caught by Rabbit Face. She quickly switches the tool for a pack of cigarettes and pretends she was just “looking for a light.” As in, a match or a lighter, not a light to finally go on upstairs, if you know what I mean.
With a cigarette in her hand, she turns to Rabbit Face and says, “Got one?” And you wouldn’t believe how horrendous Pam’s line delivery is. I didn’t think it was possible to be unable to convincingly say the words “got one” like a normal human being, but Pam found a way.
Rabbit Face says, “I don’t smoke,” and Pam responds by blowing into her cigarette. It seems the cigarette is really a tiny little dart gun, and Rabbit Face ends up with a red dart in his forehead and collapses. “Neither do I,” Pam says.
Pam grabs Rabbit Face’s key ring and opens the walk-in freezer. Inside is a young girl in a Catholic school uniform [!], whom Pam says she’s come to rescue. They run out, but Pam hears Mr. Santo approaching, probably because the Catholic Schoolgirl was his “special order”. Pam does her little girlie run, bouncing up and down on her heels as she leads Catholic Schoolgirl over to what I believe is a trash chute.
Meanwhile, a real Guido-looking guy discovers Rabbit Face dead. Here we learn Rabbit Face’s name is “Minka”, not that it really matters. Guido goes to the Stripper Dressing Room, yelling at some guy in Italian. That’s what the closed captions say he’s speaking, at any rate. Because, you know, even in 2017 all criminals will speak Italian.
Meanwhile, Pam and the Schoolgirl run upstairs to a window. Pam smashes out the window with a chair, then pulls a grappling hook out of her bag. The Catholic Schoolgirl asks what she’s doing, and Pam says, “Ever see Batman?” Sure enough, we cut to Pam lowering herself and the girl down the side of the building on a wire, with their shadow on the building even resembling Batman’s cloak. In fact, even the score becomes Elfman-esque during this moment. So, when Pam mentioned Batman, I guess she was talking about the 1989 movie, huh? Odd that someone in 2017 would immediately think of that version, and not the one due out in 2005. Guess it won’t be that big of a hit.
Anyway, as they ride the wire down, there’s a close-up on the Schoolgirl screaming and screaming, and now that I get a good look at her, she appears to be about 28. Also, it looks like Pam has been replaced by a stunt double in this shot, and the double is wearing the ugliest bleach blonde wig imaginable. I don’t even think Pam Anderson is tacky enough to dye her hair this color, if you can believe that.
Pam tells Schoolgirl to shut up as they finally reach the ground. Cut to Guido up in the window. He spots them and starts shooting at them, so Pam girlie-runs away in her heels, leading Schoolgirl by the hand.
Cut to a middle-aged couple waiting by their car, and now it’s suddenly raining. Pam walks up to them with the Schoolgirl and says, “Here’s your little pride and joy.” It seems Steel Harbor is the Land of Needless Accents, because Schoolgirl’s dad is British, and her mom sounds like she’s from Texas. Pam demands her money, but British Dad says he could only come up with half of it. He pronounces “half” as “hauff”, and Pam imitates his pronunciation—badly. “Fine,” she says. “I’ll take half your daughter!”
The British Dad suggests they negotiate, and next thing we see is Pam driving off in their car. “Spill the Wine” is further tortured as the multi-accented family just stands and watches her go. Pam drives on as we get a totally needless VO where she says getting the car and the money is “not a bad night’s work.”
Unfortunately, she’s got more to say. “It was the middle of the Second American Civil War,” she expositories, which is related to exactly nothing that just happened. She says, “The world had gone to hell. The year was 2017.” Because, you know, we really needed two different voiceovers—and an opening crawl—to explain this. Pam calls it “the worst year of [her] life.” I would have thought that was the year she divorced Tommy and found out she had Hepatitis C, but what do I know?
There’s a shot of Pam sitting in her car at daybreak, totally back in a Playmate video as she preens and postures for the camera. She stares at the city in front of her. She once again explains that Steel Harbor was the last free city in the US. “What a shithole,” she says.