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Friday, Dec. 15, 2000


The Good, the Bad and the 'Ugly'

"Coyote Ugly," the new film by hitmaker producer Jerry Bruckheimer ("Top Gun," "Con Air," "Armageddon"), takes its title from a particularly nasty bit of American slang. Based on the coyote's readiness to bite off its own leg to escape from the jaws of a trap, "coyote ugly" refers toa sexual partner, met under the influence of alcohol, who looks considerably worse when sobriety hits the next morning. So bad, in fact, that if he/she is sleeping in your embrace, you're better off gnawing off your own arm than to risk waking this monstrosity.

All in all, "Coyote Ugly" is a most appropriate title for Bruckheimer's film, because about 40 minutes into it, you'll feel like gouging out your own eyes to keep from having to watch it through the final reel. What else to say about a PG-rated sexploitation film with barely a trace of sex or exploitation, which boasts as its ultimate message: Performing erotic dances for lots of money from drunken mobs of baying men is good, unless your dad finds out, then it's bad!

"Showgirls" was genius next to this tripe, which is basically strippers without the stripping. Come back Paul Verhoeven, all is forgiven!

It's hard to imagine what sort of idiot (well, screenwriter Gina Wendkos to be precise) could miss the glaring inconsistency at the core of this film: Wannabe singer Violet (Piper Perabo) moves from Joisey to New York City to follow her dream of being a songwriter. Violet could be a successful singer, but she's shy and suffers from stage fright. (Why? Because -- cue the bargain-basement psychoanalysis -- her mother had the exact same problem!)

This doesn't stop her, however, from working at a bar called Coyote Ugly, where she gets up on the bar, along with the other ultravixen bartenders, and suggestively shakes her booty in front of a mob of drooling men. Perhaps you could argue that stage fright doesn't technically include bar counters, but even Al Gore's lawyers would lose this one on appeal.

But, hey, women are from Venus, men are from Mars and Hollywood scriptwriters are from some freaking planet, don't ask me where, but it sure isn't Earth. Perhaps in some parallel universe, supermodels in wet T-shirts can freely jiggle their breasts in the faces of a barroom full of drunken yobs with nary a bouncer in sight, but those of us still in touch with the real world will surely agree that this is about as likely as riding a magic carpet with a band of merry elves on our morning commute to work.

Just watch the way the women bartenders pour their shots, spilling rum and whiskey all over the counter. Or the way in which a group of noticeably sexy Coyote bartenders count their piles of money in clear view on the tabletop in a late-night NYC diner. Clearly, Agent Sculley, we have aliens in our midst!

The film's most egregious scene, though, comes when a riot does break out: A gang of drunken sailors go berserk, grabbing the girls off the bar and attempting to molest them. Their animal passions are quelled, though, by Violet's lovely voice singing a little song -- the mayhem stops as everyone listens transfixed to this karaoke angel. Maybe this riot control technique works on Planet Screenwriter, but I certainly wouldn't recommend trying it at Gas Panic.

John Goodman, as Violet's widowed father, tries to make the best of a bad situation, and brings some natural warmth and humor to his role. And, truth be told, newcomer Piper Perabo seems OK in her scenes with Goodman, showing a bit of spark and emotional honesty -- her career might yet survive this travesty. The four other women prominently displayed in the posters and ads for this film are barely even there, appearing onscreen just long enough to be identified as blonde, black, another blonde and dominatrix.

The film's much-touted sexy bar-top dancing is 1) not all that sexy, and 2) not even appreciable as dance. Bruckheimer's latest hired-hack is music video/commercial director David McNally, and his hyperactive MTV-styled editing absolutely butchers the choreography; He shoots from so many angles and cuts so frequently that barely an entire movement is seen in its entirety -- we have no idea whether these women really have the moves or not.

"Coyote Ugly," with its tramp fashion and celebration of sexuality as profitable arubaito, seems destined to be the all-time classic desert-island must-see for the ganguro gyaruzu. Actually, as the lights came up, one Shibuya pop-tart sitting behind me (sporting that fresh out of the toaster-oven December tan) gushed enthusiastically: "Happi-endo de yokatta!" ("It's good that it ended with a happy end!") To which one could only reply, "Endo de yokatta!"

"Coyote Ugly" is now playing at Marunouchi Piccadilly and other theaters.

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