"Based on an incredible true love story."
Laughably, insanely inept. Lionsgate, in an effort to glom onto some of that promotional gravy accompanying last December's Bonnie & Clyde mini, at least stays in the esthetic spirit of its tag-along host by releasing the equally excrementitious Bonnie & Clyde: Justified, a 2013 straight-to-DVD indie directed by jack-of-no-trades, David DeCoteau, and starring pretty, petulant little babies Ashley Hayes, Jim Poole, Hagen Mills, Jean Louise O'Sullivan, and Brad Slaughter, with "eating money" cameos by Dee Wallace and Eric Roberts (god...what happened to you?). More akin to a student's film school finals project, rather than a legitimate movie, Bonnie & Clyde: Justified is one of those rare movies that generates absolutely nothing of interest for the viewer, nor offers one second of genuine entertainment. Remarkable. No extras for this nice-looking anamorphically-enhanced widescreen transfer.
Is a synopsis really necessary? Pretty boy robber Clyde Barrow (Jim Poole) saves downtrodden, domestically abused waitress Bonnie Parker (Ashley Hayes), from a long life of drudgery by embarking a very short-lived life of bank robbing, much to the consternation of Bonnie's mother, Emma (Dee Wallace). Have no fear: cartoon lawman Frank Hamer (Eric Roberts) is on the case, ready to savagely gun down these beautiful, misunderstood kids.
Who, exactly, was the woeful Bonnie & Clyde: Justified made for, anyway? If I had to venture a cynical guess, I'd say for the stock people who fill those huge clearance bins at Wal-Mart; however, someone had to believe there was an audience out there for this miserable excuse for a movie. Sad to say, when you look at the astonishingly prolific resumes for Bonnie & Clyde: Justified's screenwriter, Rolfe Kanefsky (Sex Files: Alien Erotica, Sex Files: Alien Erotica II, Emmanuelle 2000: Emmanuelle Pie, Emmanuelle Through Time: Emmanuelle's Supernatural Sexual Activity), and director, David DeCoteau...who also directs under the names "Mary Crawford," "Julian Breen," "Victoria Sloan," "Joseph Tennent," "Jack Reed," "Martin Tate," "Richard Chasen," "Ellen Cabot," and "David McCabe" (Creepozoids, Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama, Puppet Master III: Toulon's Revenge, Snow White: A Deadly Summer, Hansel & Gretel: Warriors of Witchcraft, and Grizzly Rage, to name just a few of his 100-plus titles), these guys obviously make money for their producers and investors, or else they wouldn't keep working. If the IMDB is to be trusted (and that's a valid concern), the budget for Bonnie & Clyde: Justified was around $1,000,000...most of which had to go to Eric Roberts and Dee Wallace (if their agents were still breathing). So I would imagine with careful attention to post-production numbers and above-the-line costs, a profit--or tax write-off--for Bonnie & Clyde: Justified was probably guaranteed before anything was shot.
The reason I bring up Bonnie & Clyde: Justified's limited budget is because whenever I criticize one of these zero-money titles, I get emails and Facebook postings from actors and crew members and relatives of said-same who upbraid me for attacking a project where everyone "tried," as if "trying" was somehow the same as "achieving" (sadly, in today's America, increasingly true...). Well, as a firm believer in the dead American art of capitalism, I sincerely take my hat off to Kanefsky and DeCoteau/Crawford/Breen/Sloan/Tennent/Reed/Tate/Chasen/Cabot/McCabe for continuing to make a hard buck in a harder industry. As a movie lover, though...all bets are off with this pair. As much as I might like to, especially after watching a couple of wretched docs the other day on Bonnie and Clyde, I'm not going to go off on a big harangue about this continued bilious fascination with a real-life pair of homicidal creeps who deserve not another faux-romantic cinematic reimagining, but rather relegation to the bottom of the American history barrel. This kind of cynical myth-making, particularly when we're talking about American outlaws--in this case, the real-life Bonnie and Clyde used as a template to fashion a contemporary statement from the artists--sells to a certain portion of the population, and it always will. When Warren Beatty did so with his celebrated big-screen version of Bonnie and Clyde in 1967, the fabrication was in service of sick, cartoony jokes that spanned the gamut from commentary on screen violence, to an America increasingly unsettled by its own internal (rising crime, race riots, campus unrest) and external (Vietnam) bloodshed.
Here, in the clumsy, rushed Bonnie & Clyde: Justified, any message you're likely to get arrives via accident and inference, in this case two wonky stabs at defining female empowerment today through the Bonnie character, and the age-old cliche (invariably used when mythologizing the 1930s American gangster) concerning "Robin Hood" socialism to right the economic wrongs of Depression-era America. Distressingly, the Bonnie of Bonnie & Clyde: Justified is yet another hackneyed variation of today's cinematic "empowered little girl-woman," who snarls and pouts with equal ferocity, who "gets wild" by getting a tattoo, who kicks a guy in the balls if he abuses her, or breaks another guy's nose if he dares suggest he should take care of her, who laughs at filthy jokes (friend Rosa's crack about "accepting big packages in the rear,"), and who gives herself completely to a man...as long as he's model-hot. It's a mechanically stamped-out caricature for these cable movies and straight-to-DVD entries that's as one-dimensional and uninteresting as the Sandra Dee stereotype it's supposedly countering and "correcting." As for the "Robin Hood" sociology, at least Bonnie & Clyde: Justified has Clyde disavowing it, admitting to his brother Buck that they're keeping the money for themselves. However, when the deepest growl of social protest in this story comes over Clyde's disgust at the introduction of parking meters to America, I think we're safe in dismissing any political agenda here.
Sociology aside, Bonnie & Clyde: Justified on the most basic level of providing entertainment, utterly fails. How do you do a version of Bonnie and Clyde in this day and age, without sex or at least violence? Nothing happens here--no shoot-outs, no bank robberies, no rolls in the hay--with the penny-pinching production doing something I've never seen before in this kind of exploiter: throughout the movie, DeCoteau/Crawford/Breen/Sloan/Tennent/Reed/Tate/Chasen/Cabot/McCabe trots out at least three long, long still photo montages of the actors statically staring into the camera, complete with obviously plugged, prop pistols, as a means to convey...what? Their crimes? The state of their pores? It's a ludicrous contrivance that's as crashingly dull as it is totally, even bizarrely, inexplicable. Dialogue ranges from "So what do you do when you're not stirring hot chocolate?" to "I picked out what you're going to be for Halloween...my bitch!" while cheap, annoying, anachronistic music plays constantly underneath the scenes. Shot at what looks like a KOA somewhere in the desert mountains, the arid, scrubby, hilly terrain substitutes for Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, Missouri, and Indiana (they have adobe banks there, apparently), and by that I don't mean various locations around that arid, scrubby, hilly terrain...I mean one bend in the road and various three-sided wood plank sets make up the various banks, restaurants, and boarding houses of Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, Missouri, and Indiana (that DVD cover, featuring a generic cityscape, is a cruel lie, Lionsgate...). One shot of a car going around that bend is used at least 10 to 15 times, including the final freeze-frame that has to be one of the sorriest climaxes to a movie I have ever seen (it's supposed to be Bonnie and Clyde's car getting zapped--with hysterically only one driver visible--complete with the hilariously bad CGI bullet ricochet flashes on the fenders that look like a tin duck getting pasted in a midway shooting gallery). Dee Wallace actually tries to keep a straight face here, but Eric Roberts hams it up something terrible, no doubt in an effort to stomach the afternoon's shoot he was required to attend to get his two or three scenes. To see for my money one of the best actors of the 1980s--Star 80 and The Pope of Greenwich Village alone put him up there with the greats--appearing here in the equivalent of a student film, is unrelievedly sad. However, there is another way to look at this movie: perversely, Bonnie & Clyde: Justified is a most remarkable movie, for in total...it's completely without merit.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published movie and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.