Erin Cummings is bringing out the big guns in Bitch Slap...
Where do you start with a movie called Bitch Slap? To point out that it's trashy, over-the-top and unbelievably stupid is almost a compliment. To point out that the acting isn't Oscar worthy and the effects budget wasn't much more than the cost of catering should be plainly obvious. To point out that it's a film of style and not feminist substance won't exactly surprise the film community. So why don't we start with the line "I'm gonna booty-bang bitch slap your fucking ass until you're just this side of salvage." Because as well as summing up the tone of the movie quite perfectly, it's almost like a form of perverse poetry.
Indeed, the film's own (brilliant) opening credits label writers Rick Jacobson and Eric Gruendemann as Poet Laureates, and it'd be hard to argue. Basically the easiest place to start with Bitch Slap is to say that it's absurdly tongue-in-cheek and an homage to the exploitation movies of the 70s, referencing everything from Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (Meyer, 1965) to The Car (Silverstein, 1977). It's joyfully sleazy, but if you hadn't noticed that from the quote and picture above, you're probably not its target audience. After all, any film that stops mid-way through exposition to indulge us a slow-motion water fight isn't going to be for everyone.
The story follows three mysterious women - Camero (America Olivo), the psychotic wild card, Hel (Erin Cummings), the leader of the pack, and Trixie (Julia Voth), the vulnerable stripper. They arrive at a desert hideaway with their mind set on relieving an underworld kingpin of a fortune in diamonds, but along the way secrets are uncovered and true colours shown. It's a story of blood, bullets, and bountiful cleavage, and despite a rather strong plot, it's all absolute nonsense. Need more proof? How about Lucy Lawless in a cameo involving lesbian nuns? How about ex-Hercules star Kevin Sorbo as a sharp suited machine-gun toting super spy? Yeah, I thought so.
The biggest plus to Bitch Slap is the fact that it knows exactly what it is, plays it to the hilt and is helmed by a director and cast who are truly passionate about the film they're making. It crusades through layers of sex and violence with a wink n' smile that's highly infectious - if you allow yourself to get into the spirit of it. Ultimately, for those unfamiliar with exploitation, this will be hard to do. There are flaws - every location apart from the desert hideaway is shot on painfully obvious green screen, but the fact that it looks so cheap and campy (combined with the often bright and tacky colour scheme) suits the tone of the film and soon becomes half of its charm. The film clearly isn't rooted in realism - in fact, its quick-cut editing style, rampantly bloody violence and exaggerated sound design call to mind comic-books. It wouldn't take too much imagination to successfully translate this idea (or at least its style) into a graphic novel. Trash art is underrated.
Another important thing to remember about Bitch Slap is that it's an action movie first and foremost. It may be tongue-in-cheek, but that doesn't make it any less of a genre film. The screenplay wields stupidity like wit, a fine example being the mid-fight exchange between Hel and Camero: "Open wide psycho slut", "Lube my boob, skank twat", respectively. But the vital thing to remember is that the dialogue arrives mid-fight, and is really inconsequential to what the film is about. Primarily it's a crime thriller, stuffed with outrageous action, particularly in the final half hour. Perhaps the most prestigious member of the crew is Zoë Bell, best known for playing herself in Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof (2007). Here she's the stunt and fight coordinator and therefore responsible for choreographing some of the most awesome sequences of recent years. The aforementioned fight between Hel and Camero goes on for about five minutes - all high kicks, rapid-fire punches, low blows and greasy grapples. It's like watching a really sexy wrestling match, but one where people really get hurt. By the end of the superbly staged sequence shirts are ripped, faces are bloody and we realise that these women are really fighting for something. It's the scenes of violence that anchor the film and inform our feelings toward the characters. The US version of Bitch Slap is unrated and comes with an extra five minutes of footage. Somewhere out there on an editing room floor is a 130 minute cut (the UK version is 101 minutes) but that now seems lost. We can only dream of the awesome exploitation violence in that version, but from the absurdly entertaining evidence on offer here, I imagine it would be something rather special.
Does it go one contrivance too far? Absolutely. The final twist is obvious, overplayed and an overall low point. But when a film has been this much fun, does it even matter? I'm a strong believer in context and when we look at Bitch Slap as a cheaply made exploitation movie, designed to titillate and excite, it does its job. It has three sexy stars all delivering note-perfect performances for the material. It's well choreographed, directed and edited. And it's more fun than you can shake a stick at. It'll have detractors. But who cares? Bitch Slap, funnily enough, is exactly what the industry needs right now. A highly effective, low budget, nuts n' bolts trashfest with no A-List stars and no expectations, that manages to deliver plenty of thrills n' spills to its target audience. Michael Bay, take note.