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Barb Wire (1996)

While not exactly unprecedented - Neon City is a remake of Stagecoach and Dead Man Walking reuses the plot of The Searchers - Barb Wire wins strangeness points for appropriating the storyline of Casablanca and setting it in a post-societal-breakdown future America, with a pair of futuristic contact lenses that can subvert any security system replacing the letters of passage signed by General de Gaulle. However, it stretches the joke too far by casting silicone diva Pamela Anderson Lee as the equivalent of Humphrey Bogart's Rick and opening the film with her performing a lengthy table dance in leather underwear before blasting a bad guy.

Set in the open city of Seattle during the Second American Civil War, with Barb (Lee) dividing her time between running a bar and adventuring outside the law, the film offers quite apt recastings of old roles, with an ironical Xander Berkeley and a fascist-uniformed Steve Railsback as Claude Rains and Conrad Veidt but also pulls off jokes hardly likely to click with its audience by requiring Clint Howard and Udo Kier to play variations on Peter Lorre and Cuddles Sakall. Sadly, the script is rarely as witty as the casting, with a running joke about Lee gunning down men who presume to call her 'babe' and replacement of the 'this could be the start of a beautiful friendship' exchange with Berkeley's 'I think I'm falling in love' countered by Lee's snappy 'get in line!'. Director David Hogan overdoses on MTV effects, cutting everything to a pounding musical beat, and opting for cliché pop promo settings like red-lit industrial ruins, strobe-blighted punk dance clubs and rainswept noir streets. Its major lack is that Lee's snarled dialogue, spectacularly plastic breasts and heavy eyelids fail to project anything like a personality, and the final effect of the Casablanca cloning to is to prompt the thought that Rick didn't need a car chase and a dirtbike-vs-forklift confrontation to get to the airport.
KIM NEWMAN

First published in this form here.


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