In 10 Words or Less
Style over substance does not a fun movie make
Loves: B-movies, stylish directing, Sin City
Likes: The cast of this movie
Dislikes: Style for style's sake
Hates: Exploitation movie without the exploitation
I saw the trailer for Bitch Slap a few months back, and I wanted to see the movie bad. It looked like a combination of several films I heartily enjoy, with a self-aware sense of humor and a general sense of bad-assery. Plus you rarely go wrong when you've got a gaggle of hot women in an over-the-top genre film. Unfortunately, you can go wrong, and the result is Bitch Slap, from director Rick Jacobson, best known for his work on Xena: Warrior Princess, Hercules and, most recently, Spartacus: Blood and Sand.
The film tells a non-linear story of three women in the desert, in search of buried treasure and trying to avoid a vicious killer on their trail. Hel (Erin Cummings), Camaro (America Olivo) and Trixie (Julia Voth) are dealing with bad-guy Gage (Michael Hurst) in the present, while the movie travels back in time again and again, to reveal more of each woman's backstory, eventually revealing that what's happening in the present isn't exactly what it seems. Sadly though, before reaching even the halfway point, I lost all interest in the story. A spy subplot included, that feels straight out of the '60s, was far more interesting than anything else the film has to offer, bringing with it a killer showgirl costume for Hel and a Vegas strip shootout, but unfortunately it's a very small part of the film.
Based on his work on Spartacus, it's not a stretch to think that there was a hope and attempt to cover up the lack of interesting story with a healthy coat of style. So, with a film shot largely with green screens and presented like a live-action cartoon full of cleavage and violence, you end up with something like a color version of Sin City. Though Jacobson knows how to shoot outlandish visuals and beautiful women, there's a reason why his best-known work runs about 44 minutes long, which makes this film about two times too long. Despite that, there's a good deal of eye-candy to revel in here, though it has to be asked how one makes a movie like this, only to include nearly no nudity at all. It's one of the worst marketing decisions ever, as a few bare breasts would probably have made the 15-year-old me a fan for life.
The finale fight is one of the most overdone battles ever captured on film, choreographed by legendary stuntwoman Zoe Bell from a script that simply asked for the greatest girl fight in film history. The battle is taken to the point where you don't even care what's happening, you just want it to end, as the punches and kicks are mixed with plot twists that aren't entirely obvious, but not shocking either. And then, when it finally does, well past the point where it should have, you just have to wonder why you spent the time you did watching it. It's not like there was much to encourage you along the way. Just that trailer. Whoever made that trailer deserves some sort of award. As well as some sort of punishment for such a deceptive promotion.
This one-disc release arrives in a standard keepcase, and features a static, anamorphic widescreen menu, with options to watch the film, adjust languages, select scenes and check out the extras. There are no audio options, but subtitles are available in English SDH and Spanish, along with closed captioning.
Shot with RED cameras, the quality of the image is impressive all around, with very appropriate color and a high level of fine detail. Realism is not the goal here, with a hefty dose of green-screen special effects in the mix, but even so the low-budget effects don't hold up under such scrutiny, with one particularly explosion of glass looking particularly mis-matched with the live-action footage. There are no issues with dirt, damage or digital artifacts.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is pretty nice, capturing the bombastic nature of the film well, thanks to a very active mix that fills the side and rear speakers with plenty of sound effects and music, putting you right in the middle of the action. The dialogue is good overall, leaving you with nothing to complain about.
When I finished the film and flipped to the extras, it quickly struck me that, with two audio commentaries, I would have to watch the film two more times, a situation I was not looking forward to. Up first is a producers commentary, with Jacobson, Eric Gruendemann and Brian Peck, and the track is full of info from industry veterans about the making of a very low-budget film, as well as their thoughts about what goes on in the movie. These guys have no doubts or compunctions about the film they've made, and that attitutde can give the commentary a sense of something akin to smugness or perhaps a self-congratulatory tone. At the least, there are no dead spots.
The second track is a cast commentrary, with Voth, Cummings and Olivo taking the mic. This track was recorded first, as the producers mention, and it's a bit more freewheeling and accessible. The girls don't have a lot of internal filters and get along quite well it seems, so they are having a comfortable conversation and you get them chatting on a varied range of topics including boob sweat. It's a fun listen, whether you like the movie or not.
The final extra is an impressively long documentary on the making of the film, the three-part Behind Bitch Slap: Building a Better B-Movie," which checks in at a feature-length 99 minutes. Mixing sit-down interviews, on-set footage, pre-production moments like the table read and small observations from Hurst, the film covers basically everything that went into making the movie, from the conception, to the casting, to the shooting and the rest. Surprisingly, there's not a huge amount of overlap from the commentaries to the documentary, and you needn't even care about the movie to find this feature interesting, as the cast are a lot of fun.
The Bottom Line
You know you're in trouble when the only quote you can pull for your DVD cover is from the esteemed web site exclaim.ca. But, as I said, the trailer for Bitch Slap is fantastic, and the concept of a hyper-realistic, sexed-up, modern-day exploitation film is beyond intriguing, so you would be excused for wanting to watch this movie. But please don't. It's an overly-long exercise in pointless fighting and sexy teasing, but on the plus side, the disc looks and sounds excellent, and, for those who might enjoy the movie, there's a healthy dose of extras. One can only think that at a bit less than half the length, this would have been an excellent series to pair with Spartacus on Starz.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or his convention blog called Conning Fellow
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.