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Barb Wire

“Do I look disenchanted to you?”

I think it’s important to be honest, so here it is: I saw BARB WIRE years before I ever saw CASABLANCA. So now that I’ve finally seen the Humphrey Bogart one I thought I should rewatch to find out if the Pamela Anderson one really is loosely based on it.

Actually, not that loosely! It’s kind of a sci-fi world, based on a little known comic book, and it’s gender-swapped: Barb Wire (Pamela Anderson, BORAT) is the Rick character, the supposedly not-taking-sides military veteran running a club where dangerous people congregate. Curly (Udo Kier, BLADE) is the waiter guy. Police Chief Willis (Xander Berkeley, WALKER) is the pain in the ass but sort of sympathetic cop raiding the club and kissing the ass of the visiting assholes. Instead of Nazis those guys are “Congressionals” from Washington DC. But their uniforms look like the Gestapo and their leader, Colonel Pryzer (Steve Railsback, LIFEFORCE) likes to torture people.

Instead of papers, they’re all fighting over a set of contact lenses that can be used to get past a retinal scanner. Instead of wanting a flight to the United States via Lisbon they want a flight out, to Canada. Instead of a Czech Resistance leader it’s a doctor named Cora D (Victoria Rowell, FULL ECLIPSE) who defected to the rebels when she found out the government was using a deadly HIV-derived virus on the people of Topeka. She has the cure in her blood and has to get it to Canada. That would make her husband Axel (Temuera Jango Fett Morrison, THE MARINE 2) the Ingrid Bergman, and yes, he once was in love with Barb but ditched her and now there are hurt feelings and she has a sad late night drink thinking about it and they’re still attracted to each other but eventually she has to realize that the problems of three people don’t amount to a hill of dystopian beans in 2017 during the Second American Civil War.

(And I bet when they made this they didn’t think we could watch it in February 2017 and not be able to 100% rule out that we’d be fighting a civil war in the next 11 months.)

Instead of him leaving her in Paris, it was in Seattle (represent) and they were both soldiers at that time. And a character named Schmitz is the sleazeball who brings the lenses to Barb, which makes sense, since Clint Howard was the Peter Lorre of the ’90s.

Steel Harbor is “the last free city,” so just like Casablanca there are all kinds of people on various sides of the law who intermingle there.

One major change: there’s not a Sam or a sentimental song that reminds them of their broken hearts. There is a house band at the Hammerhead, but they don’t talk to Barb. Instead her blinded-in-combat brother Charlie (Jack Noseworthy, BREAKDOWN) fulfills the role of confidant to Barb who sees (well, hears) people from the past coming in to the club and worries about her.

The Hammerhead is an interesting club. They have chain link fences all over like it’s a rough and tumble place, but then they have waiters wearing tuxes and old fashioned diner booths and stools. The music is fucking terrible. The one and only thing about this place that’s an improvement on Rick’s Cafe Americain is the security. The bouncer is Tiny “Zeus” Lister and she also has a dog that’s trained to bite a dude by the dick and show him the door.

I like the idea of Barb Wire, the ass-kicking veteran who both runs a bar and uses it as her office for bounty hunting, the troublemaker who tortures assholes with her buxom blondness because she’ll use it to lure them or lower their guard, then she’ll beat them up or shoot them with a cigarette blowgun. She drives a missile-firing motorcycle and an armored van, she slices through walls, hangs from cranes, straps guns and grenades to her form-fitting leather, keeps a gun near her bubble bath. And Anderson’s aggressively artificial taste in makeup and cosmetic surgery kind of makes her a novelty in the context of a theatrically released movie. I think there was sex appeal at the time that for me at least has been replaced by a sort of snobbish disgust at a fake porn star type of look. But there’s part of me that roots for her as an underdog, a person who came from Playboy and a ridiculous TV show and tried to make something more of herself. And especially since we know now that this was not the stepping stone out of trash culture that it seemed like it could’ve been at the time. I want her to prove us all wrong.

So I dearly wish I could say that Anderson is awesome in this, but the truth is she’s pretty bad at intoning those low tough guy lines. She doesn’t pull it off. She does have at least one well delivered joke: after a long fight and shootout she checks her long, polished nails and says “God damn it.” Also, she looks hilarious wearing army fatigues and helmet in the war flashback. Not on purpose, probly, but I enjoyed it.

This has kind of a junky feel to it. I think of it as a major movie because I saw it in a theater, but these days it’s rare to see this kind of warehouse district production design in a “real movie.” The climax involves a crane and getting her foot stuck in a thing, for crying out loud. And the low bar is established by the opening credits scene of Barb being spraying by water, rubbing her big boobs to the tune of a horrible nu metal type song that you suddenly realize is an indefensible cover of “Word Up” by Cameo. I forgot about this post-THE CROW era of rock ‘n roll soundtracks. Not for me.

But, you know, occasionally they have a good shot of an ominous orange sky, or they introduce the crime boss Big Fatso (Andre Rosey Brown, BLOODFIST III: FORCED TO FIGHT), who sits in a raised bulldozer shovel like it’s his throne, or they make their CASABLANCA ripoff intentions really transparent, and then it’s kinda fun. For the record, their version of CASABLANCA involves a car chase and gunfight to get to the airport. It doesn’t have a “hill of beans” speech, but it does end with the same sort of sacrifice.

The screenplay is credited to Chuck Pfarrer (the Navy SEAL who wrote NAVY SEALS, DARKMAN and HARD TARGET) and Ilene Chaiken (later a writer and producer on The L Word). I remember reading that Adam Rifkin (THE DARK BACKWARD) had originally been hired to direct. According to this interview he was hired by Dark Horse, the comic book company, without the knowledge of the other producers, Propaganda, so he was the victim of their power struggle. Instead he went off and wrote MOUSEHUNT, which is actually a better movie. Propaganda was a company for music video and commercial directors, so they chose David Hogan, who had done the “u got the look” part of SIGN O’ THE TIMES. That must be why they frankly didn’t give a damn that he’d been the second unit director on BATMAN FOREVER. His only other feature is the Keenen Ivory Wayans action vehicle MOST WANTED. I always wanted to see that, but there is a possibility I did see it and it just didn’t make an impression. Not sure.

I did kinda remember BARB WIRE though.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, February 1st, 2017 at 9:07 am and is filed under Action, Comic strips/Super heroes, Reviews, Science Fiction and Space Shit. 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.

35 Responses to “Barb Wire”

  1. Not gonna lie: Pamela Anderson was the right woman for the 90s teenage version of me. I even bought my only playboy, because she was on the cover. (I never bought another Playboy, because there were TOO MANY DAMN ARTICLES AND NOT ENOUGH NUDITY! Also I got internet later.)

    That movie never did really anything for me, though. Also I keep mixing it up with TANK GIRL, although I easily remember which one is which, once I rememeber that the not-Pamela Anderson one was more fun and had Ice-T as a kangaroo.

    In conclusion: You should review TANK GIRL at one point. (Or did you already?)

  2. Depending on what day you ask me what my favorite movie is, it would either be this one or.. sorry can’t do it. Thought it would be funny to re-post my comment from CASABLANCA but I do not have the skill to pull it off.

    This one is less obnoxious than TANK GIRL but not as memorable. I only really bring up TANK GIRL because over the years, they are usually lumped together as “Forced guuurl power 90’s movies” (now-a-days the Internet would just call them feminine poison). I don’t think that’s fair because TANK GIRL had a lot more going for it and way more fun/inventive (still don’t like it very much though, maybe a re-watch will help?). I kinda hate ragging on BARB WIRE, especially since proclaiming my love of female-led genre movies in the RESIDENT EVIL: THE FINAL CHAPTER comment section, but there is not much to recommend. Though since it is officially “old” now, it does have that time-capsule quality to it that it didn’t have when it was brand new.

    As for Anderson, I was never into that “fake” look, why I didn’t know why everyone was losing their minds over Megan Fox. Not to reduce her solely to her looks though, there are a whole bunch of creatives who states she is really funny. There’s a season one audio commentary for FUTURAMA where the writers rave about how funny she is. It’s why I’ve always been rooting for her to find a role where that shines through but even her comedy parts and sitcom fell flat. I still wish her luck though, few things are more satisfying than proving a bunch of nay-sayers wrong.

  3. OK, I guess we have the David Soul CASABLANCA TV show to look forward to tomorrow. I remember that as not good, but how bad can a TV show with Ray Liotta, Hector Elizondo and Scatman Crothers have really been?

    The only thing I remember of BARB WIRE is Tommy Lee welcoming us all to Planet Boom:

    Tommy Lee - Welcome To Planet Boom

    Soundtrack to Pamela's movie "Barb Wire" I own nothing!

  4. I can’t remember this movie enough to defend it, but I did like it better than Tank Girl, which was too ’90s even for the ’90s.

  5. This is a good ‘un in the “initially hugely disappointing on release but years later enjoyably camp sci-fi action bollocks” genre – along with TANK GIRL, JOHNNY MNEMONIC, VIRTUOSITY and probably a few more.

    The comic book publisher, Dark Horse, were *really* going for it back in the 90s – this, DR GIGGLES, VIRUS – holy shit, they could’ve been the prototype for Marvel’s current business model.

    Chuck “HARD TARGET Pfarrer had one hell of a deal with them, too – he had a hand in a LOT of movie related comics and comic related movies back then (maybe that’s why he never got round to a HARD TARGET 2: SECOND CHANCE with JCVD back then.)

  6. I can confirm that JOHNNY MNEMONIC is much more watchable now as a time-capsule than when it was opening night back in ’95.

    VIRTUOSITY I always thought was stupid-fun, a re-watch may cure that belief though.

    TANK GIRL I hated so much when I saw it on video and every time I tried to re-watch it on TV, it never happened. So I’ve been skittish about giving it another go. I know the director said the studio screwed with the movie though so I’m not really holding any animosity towards her. I didn’t mind FREDDY’S DEAD, it’s a really dumb movie but fun (like I remember VIRTUAOSITY being).

    I gotta be honest and say I haven’t seen BARB WIRE since it came out on VHS.

    Didn’t all the DARK HORSE non-THE MASK movies start out life specially to be made into movies? I remember reading that about TIMECOP. Regardless we could have gotten a movie where the MYSTERY MEN have to team up with TIMECOP and THE MASK to defeat the VIRUS / DR. GIGGLES coalition.

  7. Any fans of Pamela’s VIP Series here?

  8. Felix- Fuck no

    In fact, I have never understood Pamela Andersons sexappeal. Even as a 90´s teenager she just came across as an oversized (in certain aspects) human mannequin.

  9. It´s cool if you dug it though, Felix. I don´t want to shit on stuff people like.

  10. When BARB WIRE came out I had a theory about Anderson’s appeal. Not sure this still holds up, but my take was she was playing into exactly what the patriarchal male fantasy said they wanted. Blonde, big tits, lips, tan, tiny waist (she even removed a rib to look like a human comic book). While that is not my type and I don’t want women mutilating themselves, I thought it could be that she was so owning the archetype that she was throwing it back in their faces going, “This is what you want? Fine, here I am but now I’m in control.”

    I don’t think that quite worked out, but I could at least celebrate her trying to own the ultimate buxom blonde look to make a living. Wish I liked the movie more. I suppose the bubble bath gunfight is a clever take on badass sexuality but it’s mostly dry, cheap and boring.

  11. I’m sure you guys will immediately prove me wrong but I’m going to just say it. The 90s were a really shitty time for genre movies that were theatrically released. The 90s were terrible for horror movies. Other than the world and DTV, the theatrical action movies are generally pretty terrible. The only guy holding up the 90s by his himself was Van Damme and even he could only hold it together for so long. So really the 90s sucks.

  12. Shoot McKay – Hey , it okay! I thought VIP was harmless fluff myself.

  13. I agree that horror was at a low point in the ’90s (until SCREAM briefly made it interesting again with a style that quickly played itself out).

    But as for theatrical non-Van Damme action, what about FACE/OFF, TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY, TRUE LIES, POINT BREAK, SPEED, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, UNDER SIEGE 2: DARK TERRITORY, DEMOLITION MAN, THE MATRIX, NEW JACK CITY and TOTAL RECALL?? Plus, there was the whole cyber-thriller genre, which was sort of action, and wasn’t always great, but seems really interesting in retrospect.

  14. I saw this on opening night because I had a friend who was really into the whole “It’s a blonde! With big tits! In tight leather!” aspect of the movie. Even he didn’t like it.

    At the time it was kind of funny, because I saw an interview with some of the Dark Horse movie guys and they definitely thought they were big shots moving into Hollywood. And right after that I caught an interview in Premiere with some Hollywood producers who were working with the DH guys and they were all, “Yeah, those guys don’t know anything.” The director kerfuffle Vern mentions above sounds like it might have been connected with that.

  15. What Mark said. The ’90s definitely didn’t feel cool when I was living through them but now I’m realizing how good we had it. This was the decade that gave us Nicolas Cage in mainstream action movies. Even the schlockiest ’90s movies have aged better because they had practical stunts and limited CGI. Also I saw all those movies projected on film.

  16. This was Temuera Morrison’s follow up to his role in the really-very-good-but-also-harrowing Once Were Warriors and it was supposed to be his big Hollywood break, so it received a bit of coverage in New Zealand. Ms. Anderson was also riding a wave of popularity as I believe Baywatch was one of the most popular shows on TV, next to the 6 pm news and live rugby games.
    I believe the nation, as a whole, was disappointed with the finished film, due more to Tem(as I have no right to call him)’s role and performance thanwith anything particularly offensive or terrible about the film. It also started Mr Morrison on the road to becoming something of a Vern All-Star with appearances in The Island of Dr Moreau, Speed 2, From Dusk Tim Dawn 3, Star Wars: Episode 2, and Hard Target 2 to follow.
    I barely remember anything about it and certainly did not make the connection between it and Casablanca, though my parents had shown me and my sister the, in my opinion, superior source material first.
    I’m not sure what I think about the reduction of Anderson down to her prominent body parts and her embracing of the stereotypes that went with them. She had sense enough to latch on to the media’s fascination with her but it kinda felt like she became the thing that she was making fun of, a bit like the Beastie Boys and the ‘Fight For Your Right’ phase. I also feel like the reports on her personal life represented her unfairly in a situation that was possibly out of her control. I hope she’s doing well.

  17. Felix: I’m sure I will hate it when I re-watch it, but I loved VIP back in the days! Well, not from the beginning, when it tried to be a stylish show, but was simply trash. Around the end of season 1/early season 2 they seemed to realize what kind of show they were making and they rolled with its trash appeal and made it purposely wacky, which really did make the show a lot of fun.

    Bruce Campbell even directed an episode, which I remember being surprisingly dark and dramatic and a bit of a bummer. (The two guys had to fight in an illegal tournament and one had to kill the other one. Of course they only faked the death and I didn’t buy it for one second, but they tried to make the audience believe he did and therefore a huge part of the episode was about him, griefing that he killed his friend.)

    And RE Pamela’s appeal: Tits! She was maybe the first mainstream celeb (= Not a porn star) who proudly showed off her silicone, which was still a pretty new and exciting thing back then. And I liked her, because I was a boob guy. I still am, only that a more cute and natural look now appeals to me more than it did over 20 years ago.

  18. Temuera Morrison should have been the hero of SPEED 2. Arguably that movie could have used all the help it could get but still. He had the better setup to be the hero (he’s just doing his job!) and also had much better chemistry withe Bullock and all the other actors and came off way more as a better action hero than Jason Patrick who the movie is trying so-damned-hard to convince us is going to be a huge star but he’s not because he has no chemistry with anyone anyone or the camera. At least we got a good mega-acting performance by William Dafoe.

  19. CJ – Anderson’s appeal couldn’t have been based solely on her chest. Baywatch was full of similarly endowed actresses and I think Erika Eleniak pre-dated her both in Playboy and on Baywatch. Anderson was a way bigger deal for some reason.
    Geoffrey – Morrison has not been well served by his film choices or the films offered to him. He can be a very charismatic presence on screen and whilst he has worked steadily I wish he had a few more lead roles.

  20. George, but Anderson’s boobs were bigger than normal mainstream silicones at that time. Like I said, she looked like a porn star, but appeared on (inter)national television on a pretty family friendly show. She was like a secret fetish, that was totally okay to have in public! By today’s standards, she is almost average and boring, but over 20 years ago, that was a nearly mindblowing look!

  21. Fair enough CJ, I thought there might have been something a bit more zeitgeist-y about her, but I’m willing to admit that her enhancements were what made her stick out, so to speak.

  22. Well, it also helped that she was smart enough to sell herself right, as the pornstar-looking chick, who is actually a sweet vegan girl next door, but still bad girl enough to date rockstars and troublemakers. She was the right mix between “girlpower” (which was a brand new catchphrase back then) and pin up.

    Thinking about it, a film like BARB WIRE, which portrayed her as strong, smart, independent warrior woman, who is introduced in an opening credit scene that was most likely every teenage boy’s favourite wank fuel for a few years, simply had to happen at that point in time.

  23. I’ve just seen photos of current Pam having undergone a “make-under”. Nice to see that Pamela Anderson is indeed a human and not a fembot.

  24. I kind of miss junky 80s and 90s genre movies. I came of age with Cyborg, Hardware, et al (and earlier schlock like Eliminators, Jared-Syn, Megaforce, etc.). They have a rough-and-tumble, hand-made feel to them that entirely does not exist any more.

  25. This is one of those movies which, even though I don’t think I ever saw it all the way through, seemed like it was a big deal, but it turned out that this was actually a film which didn’t even reach the Top 10 Chart in the UK or US. But it was a big deal in the posh-ish school I went to when it came out, even though we were only 9 and thus too you to go see the film, or, er “appreciate” the charms of Ms Anderson “properly”, so there was probably a fair bit of pre-adolescent macho posturing going on

    This did get a fairly big push in the UK though, possibly because a film fits in with our Page 3 girl etc. culture; a free magazine in one of the tabloids for example. “Don’t Call Me Babe” was the “Go Ahead Make My Day” of the 90s as best I could tell, or would have been if I’d have known what that was. Most bizarrely of all I remember kids in my school collecting Barb Wire stickers or trading cards or something; standard marketing in the 70s and 80s, a bit less so in the 90s, and much less so for films aimed squarely at teens and above. I remember this vividly, can any other limeys lurking here please tell me I wasn’t imagining it?

  26. After reading this thread I think we all know how CJ Holden got his name.

    Not to derail anything but isn’t part of Speed 2’s problem is that they didn’t just go full on Die Hard with it? I think it would have been cooler if it was Willem Defoe leading a band of dudes trying to blow up the ship but it’s really a cover for a heist.

  27. @World Eater: I totally agree. Action flicks got all “serious & gritty” after 9/11, and it’s a shame. Watching a stupid actioner from the ’80s or ’90s makes me a bit nostalgic.

  28. Well, looks like the secret is out. Sternsheim uncovered it. My name comes from THE WEST WING. (Don’t know what this has to do with BARB WIRE, though.)

  29. I don’t think making fun of Pamela Anderson for her plastic surgery and makeup choices is fundamentally any different than mocking Melissa McCarthy for her body type. Further, as “porno-y” as her look may be, it’s worth noting that her only real-porn came from a legitimately-stolen video tape of private sex with her ex-husband.

    TL:DR – thanks for noting that your initial response was ‘snobbish.’

    Also, funny review.

  30. I think Sternshein is referring to the fact that Anderson’s character’s name in Baywatch was CJ. Funnily enough, I believe that another female character had the surname Holden, but was played by an actress that actually looked like a lifeguard.

  31. Always holding, man/ you could call me Caufield.

  32. “since Clint Howard was the Peter Lorre of the ’90s.”

    For the love of God, Vern, never change.

  33. I just referred to Larry Fessenden as the Clint Howard of the 2010’s. By the transitive property, that means Peter Lorre was the Larry Fessenden of the ’30s.

  34. This movie has one of my favorite trailers of all time. It makes it look like just the kind of cheesy action I like. It’s too bad the movie doesn’t live up to the trailer.

    Barb Wire (trailer)

    http://www.amazon.com/Barb-Wire-Pamela-Anderson/dp/B00007AJF5 Barb Wire is a 1996 film based on the Dark Horse comic book series Barb Wire. The film was prod...

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