"KEEP BUSTIN'."

Alley Cat

tn_alleycat“It was this old guy with a gun, and some broad.”

ALLEY CAT is a shoddy but sometimes fun version of the urban vigilante thriller as well as the female assault-victim revenge story, the types of copycat movies made in the wake of DEATH WISH and MS. 45. Billie (Karin Mani, whose character was killed in the beginning of the similarly themed AVENGING ANGEL) is an adult woman in Los Angeles who studies karate, lives with her grandparents and as far as we know has no job. In the opening scene a neighbor calls to tell her someone’s stealing the tires off her car. She throws some clothes on, goes out there and tells the two thugs* crouched down by her car that “Okay guys, that’s enough.”

Of course, criminals in a 1984 action movie are not going to have a good grasp of gender equality, so one of them says “Hey bitch, didn’t your daddy ever teach you nothin? Never bother a man when he’s workin?”

*I know these days “thug” is racist code for the n-word, but I am old fashioned and using it to describe white guys who steal tires

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Those dudes and this alley are definitely not in the movie. She’s more of a public park jogging trail cat, really.

So she karates the shit out of them and then her grandpa comes out in a bathrobe with a gun, fires a shot at them and they take off. It turns out they have a boss named Bill, who they find in a filthy apartment wearing only red underpants and a dog chain around his neck. He apparently instructed them to steal tires and since they can’t do it right he’s gonna go teach the interlopers a lesson. So he gathers up a bunch more creeps/punks (or “garbage people” as a character later in the movie would classify them), stalks Billie’s grandparents, robs and stabs them. Grandpa survives, grandma doesn’t.

The love interest of the movie is a young cop named Johnny (Robert Torti, who IMDb says played Dex Dogtective in FOODFIGHT!, but I’m not sure if that means he did lines that Charlie Sheen didn’t or that he did the terrible motion capture acting). Billie meets him cute by breaking his nose on a door when she storms into the hospital to find her grandparents.

In stubborn defiance of all the crime in her neighborhood, Billie likes to go jogging alone at night, often in remote parks. Her grandpa tries to convince her not to, but agrees to stand down if she takes his gun with her for protection.

Of course wouldn’t you know it, on her run she comes across two drunk guys trying to rape a woman at a picnic shelter in the park. She beats them up and has the lady call the police. Johnny shows up, but his older partner Boyle (Jon Greene, MANIAC COP) is an asshole. He arrests her for possession of a concealed weapon and trespassing.

These rapists, they work for that guy Bill too (or William Krug alias Scarface, the police file tells us). Their raping was not one of his assignments though. As Tom (Tim Cutt, uncredited first assistant director, ENTER THE NINJA) explains, “Me and Mickey, we went into the park and we climbed up on this bitch, ha ha ha.”

Speaking of Mickey, I wonder how the Walt Disney Company feels about a guy who says that wearing this t-shirt?

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There’s also some pretty good product placement for Arby’s:

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Again, Billie goes jogging at night, and this time a guy starts jogging next to her and talking to her. When she tells him to leave her alone he says “What, are you stuck up or something?” This is what alot of guys don’t understand about sexual harassment. Even if it’s mild and innocent, it can be constant enough to be oppressive. “But it’s a compliment!” this guy would say. Sure. It’s also a compliment when Tom Hanks gets constantly asked for an autograph, but at some point people should leave him alone so he can take a shit, otherwise they’re jerks. And Tom Hanks chose to be an actor, Billie did not choose to have boobs. Also, Tom Hanks doesn’t have to worry as much that the person talking to him actually has ill intent toward him.

Of course, in this case the complimenter does have ill intent. When Billie turns him down he jumps her, pins her down, starts talking nasty and threatening her. Luckily she’s able to get out from under him and beat him up.

I’m honestly unclear whether Billie is intentionally going out at night to attract these attackers so she can take her aggression out on them, or whether she is just asserting her rights as an American to do what she wants. A guy could go jogging at night and just have to worry about wearing reflective clothing. Why shouldn’t she be able to do the same?

Anyway, before the case comes up against Tom and Mickey, the first attempted rapists, Bill attacks the victim in her apartment and convinces her to drop the charges. The wimpy, incompetent district attorney blows the case anyway, so Billie makes a scene in court and, in the tradition of VIGILANTE, ends up being the one to do jail time. Kill the messenger.

Billie impresses her large, lesbian cellmate Sam (Moriah Shannon, “Venus Club Waitress,” DC CAB), who has the cell decorated with girly pinups and a picture of… carpet? Fur coats? Meat? I’m not sure. But it’s kinda ugly, isn’t it?

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I guess that screengrab gives away that Billie has to beat her up. Just like the jogger in the park, Sam hits on her (trying to brush her hair and give her a massage), then when rejected pins her against the bars (“What Sam wants, Sam gets”). So Billie does what Billie does, and apparently it makes an impression. A scene later she’s leaving the jail on good terms with Sam and all the other inmates, who seem like they’re gonna miss her.

Meanwhile, Johnny is on the case. He seems like a clean cut nice boy, but his dark side comes out when he goes rogue to track down the garbage people. He pretends to hire a cute hooker who he knows has information, goes into her apartment, handcuffs her to her bed, finds her drugs and taunts her with them until she starts having withdrawals and agrees to tell him what he needs to know. “She talked her brains out!” he explains to Billie.

And the kicker of all this is that beforehand he refused to pay her fifty bucks and insisted on twenty five! Is being a cheapskate a more believable cover, or was it just important to him to degrade her further?

Free again, it’s business as usual for Billie. She goes jogging at night again, two guys in their car drinking beer chase her and try to rape her, so she beats them up and tells them “That’s not nice!” L.A. never changes I guess.

Johnny found out from the hooker which bar the Scarface boys hang out at, and Billie gets there before he does. One of her attackers is there sitting at the bar with a woman. Billie just walks up behind him, lights his cigarette for him and says “Hi there!” This is one of the best scenes, a big bar brawl with a bunch of more normal guys in tucked-in polo shirts standing around not sure what to do when a lady is beating up a dude.

But despite all the effort put into tracking these guys down, Billie finally gets to Scarface using her usual method, walking around at night as a woman. In this movie, a woman stepping outside a door at night is like dripping blood into shark infested waters. She just goes outside, there’s gonna be rapist garbage people nearby and they’re gonna smell her coming. It’s terrible.

She wears a funny hat to be mistaken as “an old broad,” but Bill goes after her specifically because he recognizes her as Billie. So the disguise is an unnecessary flourish.

This is not one of the best vigilante or female revenge or women of martial arts movies, but it’s got enough of the good shit to be fun. I would especially like to tip my hat to Michael Wayne, who plays Scarface. According to IMDb this is his only role. That makes me worry he might’ve died tragically, because I don’t see how this guy doesn’t end up at least playing a hundred alley muggers. Look at this guy:

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Great villain, with and without pants.

The other most notable thing about this one is that Billie, our female avenger, does not get raped. Usually in a movie like this you gotta endure a rape scene first before you can enjoy the lady killing a bunch of dudes. It’s not like the movie is completely free of that, because there are multiple attempted assaults. But Billie always stops them and they are not even the initial incident that starts her crusade.

And Mani acquits herself well. I’m not sure where she comes from – she doesn’t seem to be an established martial artist, and she looks like a model. But she has a good fuck-you attitude, never turns damsel in distress, and goes for it in the fight scenes. Of course it’s stylized, but it’s not one of the ones where it just seems like a model limply re-enacting choreography. She wails on some dudes, including ones who make interesting fashion choices for their backyard barbecues. She’s not the only one here who knows how to rock a headband.

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, December 30th, 2014 at 9:59 am and is filed under Action, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

11 Responses to “Alley Cat”

  1. She’s got a cast on in that last screen shot. Is that part of the storyline? I’m wondering because it kind of looks like they tried to hide it with the long sleeve and making it close to a skin tone color. I can’t decide if that’s awesome that she was so into the fight choreography she got hurt, or if it’s terrible that they weren’t careful with her safety. It would also be badass if it was part of the story and her character could take them on one-handed.

  2. Good eye! No, unless my memory is worse than I think that was not a part of the plot, and I didn’t notice it until you pointed it out.

  3. The Original Paul

    December 30th, 2014 at 5:47 pm

    This is one of Vern’s not-bad reviews (the film, not the review) that absolutely put me off the film in question. I would’ve put money on it being written and directed by men (and I would’ve been right). One of my absolute pet hates in movies / TV shows is when every man is portrayed as a scumbag, sleazeball, violent rapist or misogynist. (2000s THE GIFT would be another example.) It’s misogyny-by-stealth. By having an idealised female protagonist and cartoonishly awful male antagonists, you reduce years of feminism to an “us vs them”, and redefine “female equality” or “female empowerment” as gettin’ back at da MAN. It’s a male power-fantasy in the guise of pseudo-feminism – or to put it another way, it’s what a certain type of man would probably like feminism to be. I can’t think of a single one of these movies – and there are loads of them – written or directed by a woman.

    This is why I dislike a lot of bad rape-revenge movies. Not all of them – I don’t expect every piece of harmless escapism to be as great as KILL BILL VOLUME 1 – but stuff like this always leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Subjectively I just don’t like it. Which is weird, given that I can accept all kinds of exaggerated political stuff in movies. (Just thinking about the three Verhoven movies, none of which were exactly subtle about the points they were making – STARSHIP TROOPERS had Neil Patrick Harris’ character wear a Nazi trenchcoat for most of the movie – should really make me mad by that standard, but I love ’em.) I think that maybe the difference is that I don’t feel that KILL BILL or the Verhoven trilogy were co-opting a minority cause in the way that it feels like ALLEY CAT is, at least from the impression I’m getting of this movie from the review. Hell, with the possible exception of TOTAL RECALL, the Verhovens each co-opted a position that a lot of powerful people felt was “reasonable”, and used satire to show how absurd it was. Whereas shitty movies like THE GIFT – idealised female protagonist, awful male characters, yet written and directed by men – take what should be a reasonable movement and portray it in a way that makes a mockery of it. I hate that.

    Am I reading too much into this specific movie? Quite possibly (it seems to be a bad year for that kind of thing, after the Marvel movies’ “Trust whoever claims to protect you, no matter how secretive their methods are” and A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES’ “All women are victims”) but it seems I’m not fine with a lot of stuff I would’ve accepted as “just escapism” when I was younger. Rape scenes in Bond movies are no longer cool (not even if she invited him onto her boat in the first place). And yeah, I get that a lot of these movies probably weren’t meant to be “about” feminism, but come the fuck on. You don’t get to tattoo the swastika on your arm and then, when people object to it, respond “I never meant it to mean that I support Naziism”. Times change and so do symbols; and ALLEY CAT came out the year after Greenham Common and second-wave feminism. (Also the year after sweeping women’s rights reforms in the US, just in case Greenham Common wasn’t big enough over there.)

    Anyway, I think I will give ALLEY CAT a miss.

  4. Paul, would you have the same objection to blaxploitation movies where every white character is a scumbag? It’s the same thing. Disenfranchised group gets a simple black-and-white revenge fantasy to call their own. Nothing wrong with that. It’s not a message movie, it’s an exploitation movie. The emotions it’s exploiting–that women often feel victimized by men and wish they could do something direct and decisive about it–is very real, even if its treatment of the topic is completely cockeyed. That’s how all the best exploitation movies work. Leave the serious discussion for the Oscar bait. Exploitation movies stick to gut level reactions and they’re better for it.

  5. Paul, TANK GIRL was directed by a woman and honestly, the biggest problem that I have with that movie is kinda what you described in terms of THE GIFT (which I don’t agree with in that case, btw). Every man in TANK GIRL is a rapist or “just” totally rotten and evil. Even the good Kangaroo mutants discuss at one point if they should rape the two heroines. And although the movie was more aiming at being a mindless fun romp, that could only happen in that form in the 90s, it crossed way too many times the lines between “Yaay, girlpower!” and “All men are scum”. Still a pretty watchable movie, though.

    BUT since the year is about to end in a few hours and I’m really not in the mood for another sexism discussion based on our interpretation of certain movies, I just leave it at that.

  6. But doesn’t that come from the comic book, which was made by a male dude?

  7. I never read any of the comics, so I don’t know how faithful the movie is. Maybe she has some non-evil and/or rapey male friends in there, while also fighting evil women once in a while.

  8. The Original Paul

    December 31st, 2014 at 6:04 pm

    Majestyk – I don’t have the same objection to Blaxploitation, but they were mostly made, scored by, and starred black men, and were a part of black culture. I don’t think the kinds of movies I’m thinking of – of which ALLEY CAT may or may not be one, that’s just a vibe I’m picking up from the review – will ever be a part of feminist culture, and considering they mostly seem to be written and directed by middle-aged men, I have a lot of difficulty believing they arose from it. (Honestly the only real problem I have with most blaxploitation is I don’t understand a word of what the characters are saying without subtitles.)

    I dunno, maybe I’m reading way too much into it, maybe it’s just a subjective thing for me. I’m not saying this is something awful that needs to be banned from all film, etc. It just bothers me.

    And CJ, TANK GIRL took place in a post-apocalyptic wasteland with kangaroo mutants. It was intercut with actual pages from the comic book it was based on. It wasn’t ever supposed to be taken as a gritty realistic portrayal of life in the underbelly of the seedy big city or anything like that. It’s a hard thing to explain, but I feel that the context of TANK GIRL is such that it’s so self-consciously fantastic that it’s removed from “real” politics in a way that a revenge drama set in a modern city is not. There’s a whole other context.

    PS – Happy New Year everyone!

  9. Watching this now. Less than the minutes in and the villain has already said “Drive, asshole!” three times. I’m gonna like this movie.

    A funny thing I noticed is that the title comes from something derogatory. The guys she beats up at the beginning say she fought like a tiger, and the villain says “By the time we’re done with that tiger, she’ll be nothing but an alley cat.” It’s like if GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY was called A BUNCH OF A-HOLES.

  10. Watching this now. Less than ten minutes in and the villain has already said “Drive, asshole!” three times. I’m gonna like this movie.

    A funny thing I noticed is that the title comes from something derogatory. The guys she beats up at the beginning say she fought like a tiger, and the villain says “By the time we’re done with that tiger, she’ll be nothing but an alley cat.” It’s like if GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY was called A BUNCH OF A-HOLES.

  11. Sorry for the double post. Tried to fix a typo at the last second and got burned.

    P.S. Waaaaaaay better title.

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