Splay it Again, Pam
The main goal for Dark Horse was to reach out to as broad of an audience as possible, to find those moviegoers not familiar with the source material—which is roughly most people. Turns out they allowed for some major revisions in the making of “The Mask”, which in its original incarnation is said to have been rather dark, and probably lacking in large salsa dance numbers. The producer of “Barb Wire” actually said, (and from what I can tell he was not being ironic) “We built a fully-fleshed out story around the essence of Barb.”
Not being a regular reader of—OK…I’ve never read the comic. I have never even seen a copy. But I am guessing that for the most part the original series had some original story lines. Co-writers Ilene Chaiken and Charles Pfarrer decided instead to go with a remake of “Casablanca” set in the future. Rather than Bogart giving the Nazis the runaround, we get a blonde involved in gunfights while doing splits in a latex bustier. This may have been a safe bet given the young age of the target demographic, and the likelihood that they are not fans of the classics, and the likelihood that those who have seen “Casablanca” were not likely to go see a Pamela Anderson film.
The movie begins by giving us some back-story via the traditional crawl, and since the producers had low expectations for their audience they provided a voice-over to read the information to the illiterates in attendance. The year is 2017 and the country has been ravaged by the second civil war, and to let us know how bad things have gotten, people demand to be paid in Canadian dollars. An oppressive regime has taken over Washington and a band of mercenary rebel fighters are waging the good fight against them. Even in this low-grade effort, the usual Hollywood liberal politics sneak in as the oppressive force is the Congressional Republicans, and they are opposed by the do-good Democratic Resistance. To drive the point home, the Congressionals are toddling around in Nazi uniforms, just to help us see who the bad guys are.
Barb operates the Hammerhead Bar in the last free city in the states, Steel Harbor, but despite always having a packed house she has to supplement her income by going undercover to work as a bounty hunter. She is cold and money hungry, but we soon learn she has a past. She also has to contend with frequent visits from Willis, the local cop who extorts cash and drinks. The Congressionals, in their sporty togs by Third Reich Clothiers, soon come sniffing in the bar for a scientist who has escaped from Washington. It turns out that there was an experiment with a new strain of AIDS, labeled with the un-PC name “Red Ribbon,” that was used to wipe out Topeka, Kansas. The scientist got disgruntled and she is now trying to flee to freedom loving Canada.
It is at this same time the scientist shows up at the Hammerhead with Axel, a resistance fighter and former lover of Barb. They want Barb’s help in getting the scientist safely across the border, but Barb still has issues with Axel leaving her alone on the front lines in Seattle, and for now getting married to the scientist chick. Everybody, it seems, has come to the Hammerhead hoping to get their hands on a pair of synthetic body parts. No not those. They all want a set of artificial retinal contact lenses, smuggled in from Germany, which allow anyone to pass through the eye screens that the government uses to find enemies. Barb knows nothing of the lenses, but just when things have gotten weird enough, in comes Clint Howard as a leisure-suited grafter to ratchet the W-Factor up to ten.
He tries to play Barb for a patsy and ends up costing her a million dollar payoff on a bounty. Not too much later, he crawls back to the bar to work a deal with her for the lenses, telling her that he is a dead man no matter if he is caught with them or not. So much for bargaining power. She tells him to pound sand and as he leaves with his tail between his legs he—for no identifiable reason—decides to hide the lenses in the bar. His skills at concealment are suspect as Barb’s blind brother finds them in a matter of minutes.
Barb gets the lenses and tries to broker for safe passage to Canada with the underworld boss, Big Fatso. He fills out the Sydney Greenstreet role here, weighing in at 350 pounds at least, and having to be chauffeured around his junkyard in the bucket of a Catepillar front-loader. His scenes were easily more enjoyable than Pam’s high wire antibiotic scrub down.
As things wrap up, Barb comes around and actually does something selfless for the first time in the entire film by helping her former lover. This means that she acts in a way completely foreign to her in the final minutes to show character growth. Axel and his bride make it to Canada, and a bit of convenient fortune has Barb falling into cash and heading off for Europe, so we are left to believe that America will continue to crumble into a pile of debris, left to be forgotten much like this film had been. Makes me wonder if the script had been written by Swedish socialists hoping to indict our capitalist underpinnings–leave it to them to choose a comic book movie to deliver their propaganda.
All throughout we get the usual amount of double and triple crosses, and Pambo’s double-barreled performance is as expected, firing blanks. She sneers and grits her teeth with aplomb, but subtleties like emoting and irony are never employed. Of course seeing her outfits, when she does wear them, easily shows that subtle just ain’t in her lexicon. Oh well, we’ll always have Steel Harbor.
Brad Slager brings us a deep exploration into films that received a major studio release, with bankable star talent and a significant promotional campaign, and yet failed to receive the public’s attention. Brad trains his focus on those titles that have failed to register in the public conciousness–even for those who have seen them–and strives to find out what caused the problems, although he occasionally may digress into unrestrained flagellation. (For this we apologize.)
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Posted on August 18, 2003 in Features by Brad Slager
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