The Warriors

"The Warriors" (1979)
It’s a hot night on the town, with the Warriors trying to bop their way from Pelham to the other end of the subway, the mighty C.I. But first, they have to tango with numerous gangs that seemingly run the streets, testosterone-heavy outfits that make a grand statement about owning their precious turf. Fortunately, a group of our heroes find salvation in the arms of the Lizzies, a tough group of girls that give off the impression that they are simply a group of groovy, happening broads. Think again, Warriors: the Lizzies are one of the toughest gangs in the city, and once the switchblades come out, our protagonists scamper to safety, terrified that LADIES could pose such a threat. Walter Hill's cultish and oddly beautiful time-capsule of late '70s New York youth culture reimagined as a near-future tale of societal breakdown, is a lean, economic story of an odyssey to return home that glimmers and bristles with the director's trademark violence and masculine brawn. And it features early performances from two of our favorite character actors in those brawny roles: James Remar and David Patrick Kelly. But, whatever about the boys, the Lizzies are the foils the Warriors are least expecting, and so the ones who make in some way the biggest impression... Almost got ‘em, Lizzies. [B+]

Bad Girls

Bad Girls” (1994)
A revisionist take on the Western myth told from the traditionally marginalized point of view of prostitutes? Yes please! And yet “Bad Girls” -- no, thanks. The pulchritudinous foursome of Madeleine Stowe, Drew Barrymore, Andie McDowell and Mary Stuart Masterson play whores run out of town after Stowe’s character is rescued by the others from an impromptu hanging. But when they head into the wilderness with a price on their heads as the world’s prettiest outlaw gang en route to a New Life, they cross paths with a real gang (of robbers, murderers and rapists) who variously steal from them, taunt them, kidnap them and rape them. But despite the wild Peckinpah-style drama this might promise, the film is somehow so genteel and soft-focus, the plotting so on-the-beat predictable and the characters so one-note that nothing really snags our attention until an ill-choreographed shootout finale. The lack of depth lent any of the characters is a terrible missed opportunity. There’s The Reformed Bad Girl Leader (Stowe), The Possibly Gay One But We Don’t Dwell On That (Barrymore), The One Who Misses Her Dead Husband (Masterson) and The One Who Wants A Husband (MacDowell), and they’re all so goddamn nice, so unjustly accused, so not-to-blame for their "fallen" circumstances, that it’s hard to find a shred of agency in any of them. So while at the outset it might have seemed like it would have some sort of feminist agenda, in fact the only thing that “Bad Girls” does well is showcase the leads in a variety of sexy outfits and fetchingly disheveled hairdos. Without any sense of struggle or strength or intelligence on the part of these women, it’s actually kind of an insult, and the trappings do scant justice to the richness of the Western canon either. Frankly, it’s hard to look at this film as anything other than a larky game of dress-up for some very attractive females that sells out an interesting premise almost as soon as it sets it up. Oh, and Dermot Mulroney. [D+]

Sin City

Sin City” (2005)
Granted the world of Frank Miller’s graphic novel and Robert Rodriguez’s visually groundbreaking genre film isn’t exclusively about bad girls, but we obviously do have some outliers in this bunch and we want the fierce, bad-ass ladies here represented. Weaving in several stories from the various "Sin City" comics, one of the tales revolves around the narrative "The Big Fat Kill,” which focuses on a street war between a group of prostitutes and a group of mercenaries, the police, and the mob. Centering on a love triangle between Shellie (Brittany Murphy), her current boyfriend (played by Clive Owen) and her abusive ex-boyfriend Jackie Boy (Benicio Del Toro), this combustible dynamic spills over into Old Town where Jackie Boy makes the mistake of harassing Alexis Bledel, a young prostitute who is a member of a group of lethal, leather-bound prostitutes that includes Rosario Dawson and Devon Aoki. Jackie Boy’s death at the hands of the girls (a scene directed by Quentin Tarantino) unveils he’s actually a cop and a huge blood war erupts. There’s not really a weak section in “Sin City,” and certainly with this motley crew of actors (including Michael Clarke Duncan), "The Big Fat Kill” is certainly one of the sexier and dynamic sections overall. [B+]

Set It Off

Set It Off” (1996)
In the wake of so many crime movies set in tough ghettos featuring mostly black characters -- the pinnacle achieved in 1995 by the Hughes Brothers with “Dead Presidents” -- it was refreshing to see one that focused on women committing the crimes. Featuring a stellar cast, led by Queen Latifah in a role that showed fairly early on what she was capable of in front of the camera, this tale of four female bank robbers is unfortunately too cliche-laden to ever achieve greatness. Basically, “Set It Off” has every trope you’ve seen in these kinds of flicks, just with black female actors front and center. While that may be surface-admirable from a diversity point of view, it’s not enough to give the movie a pass. But again, that cast is strong, with very good turns from Jada Pinkett Smith, Vivica A. Fox and Kimberly Elise. F. Gary Gray’s competent direction in the heist scenes also makes up for a film that ultimately does what it does just fine, but never pushes or upends the genre beyond its initial, headline-grabbing conceit. As such, it’s a well-intentioned movie that, around its release past the mid-'90s, saw less and less of its ilk being made. [C+]


Grease” (1978)
Sure, Danny (John Travolta) and Sandy (Olivia Newton-John) are the heart of "Grease," but Rizzo (Stockard Channing) is the SOUL of the thing, the pathos, the humor and the sarcastic best friend elbowing you in the ribs with a "get a load of these two." Rizzo, the leader of the Pink Ladies, really gets at what the pure appeal of the bad girl is. They're believable, relatable, sexy and fun, and Channing is all of those things as well as cynical and world-weary. In a post-modern, overtly nostalgic film like "Grease," in which Hollywood of the late 1970s, rocked by Vietnam, hippies, and social, artistic, and industrial upheaval, attempted to recreate the safe and sanitary bubble of 1950s, Rizzo plays a very important role not only as the feminine foil to the wisp of cotton candy that is Newton-John's Sandy, but as a self-reflexive acknowledgment of the artificiality of the entire endeavor. During "Summer Nights," she shrugs and sighs as the girls squee in time over Danny; "Look At Me I'm Sandra Dee" is a direct send up of the Doris Day-style sexuality that was so popular in the 1950s, and "There Are Worse Things I Could Do" is an indictment of the sexuality/morality conundrum that continues to plague a society that doesn't quite know what to do with a sexy and confident gal like Rizzo. Heady stuff for a film most often viewed at the slumber parties of middle school girls. And of course, the rest of the Pink Ladies are a treat too, from Frenchy's (Didi Conn) "Beauty School Drop Out" dreams to Marty Marashchino's (Dinah Manoff) vavavoom cutesiness. What "Grease" gets right is the individuality of each of the girls in the Pink Ladies, using them all to highlight a certain aspect of the story and themes. But without Rizzo, "Grease" wouldn't be half the classic it is today. [B+]