Friday May 3, 1996
Though it's not lacking in stunts and explosions, another kind of special effect is likely to draw America's interest in "Barb Wire": What exactly keeps Pamela Anderson Lee's barely-there costumes from falling off while she administers the rough brand of justice she's known for?
Having added a last name since her carefree, barefoot days on "Baywatch," Lee now wears heels like hypodermic needles and squeezes herself into low-cut laced-up leather outfits that make it difficult to breathe, let alone dispense the lethal punishments her role demands. And you thought it was easy being a star.
The year is 2017, the time of the Second American Civil War, and Steel Harbor is the last free city, unclaimed by either the ruling jack-booted Congressionals or the freedom-loving resistance, a place where life is cheap and debts are best paid in Canadian money.
Barb Wire (Ms. Wire to you, buddy) owns a club in town called the Hammerhead and supplements her income by working as a freelance mercenary and/or bounty hunter. It's a dirty job, but those leather outfits don't exactly come off the rack.
A self-reliant type who creates problems for men who call her "Babe," the formerly idealistic Barbara Kopetski has been, yes, disenchanted by the war and now prides herself on being a neutral businesswoman, in it strictly for the money.
But that even-handedness is sorely tested when old flame Axel ("Once Were Warriors' " Temuera Morrison) shows up with resistance leader Cora D (Victoria Rowell) and asks for Barb's help in getting her out of the country. Talk about a crisis of conscience.
Taken, like so many recent action films, from a popular comic book, "Barb Wire" ought to be disreputable fun. Instead it ends up, all its explosions and exposed flesh notwithstanding, rather inert. A pre-sold attraction where all the creativity went into the packaging, this is one of those films that's more fun to anticipate than to watch.
This is not exactly Anderson Lee's fault. True, she can't really act, but on the other hand, nobody expected she could when she was signed for the part. Her job was to be a flesh-and-blood cartoon, willing to pose and posture in bubble baths and battle scenes and, like a good soldier, she does what's expected. Which is more than can be said of her collaborators.
"Barb Wire's" script, written by Chuck Pfarrer and Ilene Chaiken, probably could have been improved on by a randomly selected pair of 12-year-olds. Given that the action opens with a crawl that is helpfully read by a narrator, it's fair to assume that a preliterate crowd is the film's intended audience.
And although having David Hogan direct seems sensible on paper, that has not turned out to be the case. A music video veteran who did the second unit stunts for "Batman Forever" and "Alien3," Hogan has been unable to do more than go through the motions here.
Made with a wafer-thin stylishness that thinks dressing the Congressionals like storm troopers is creative, "Barb Wire" plods along, following one pro forma scene with the next. There's a reason music videos don't last 99 minutes, and should "Barb Wire" cross your path, you'll know what it is.
Barb Wire, 1996. R, for violence and nudity/sexuality. A Polygram Filmed Entertainment presentation of a Propaganda Films/Dark Horse Entertainment production, released by Gramercy Pictures. Director David Hogan. Producers Michael Richardson, Todd Moyer, Brad Wyman. Executive producer Peter Heller. Screenplay by Charles Pfarrer and Ilene Chaiken. Cinematographer Rick Bota. Editor Peter Schink. Costumes Rosanna Norton. Music Michel Colombier. Production design Jean Philippe Carp. Art director Dins Danielsen. Set decorator Lisa Robyn Deutsch. Running time: 1 hour, 39 minutes. Pamela Anderson Lee as Barb Wire. Temuera Morrison as Axel. Victoria Rowell as Cora D. Jack Noseworthy as Charlie Kopetski. Xander Berkeley as Willis. Steve Railsback as Colonel Pryzer. Udo Kier as Curly. Rosey Brown as Big Fatso.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun