BANSHEE is a pretty cheesy 2000s crime/action type movie I added to my Letterboxd watchlist long enough ago that I don’t remember where I found out about it. I think I was scouring for movies directed by women that were more in the b-action type zone I prefer instead of the respectable stuff you usually see on lists. So I came across this obscure car thief movie I’d never heard of from Canadian director Kari Skogland and screenwriter Kirsten Elms (TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D).
Skogland’s filmography at the time included CHILDREN OF THE CORN 666: ISAAC’S RETURN and LIBERTY STANDS STILL starring Wesley Snipes. And, unsurprisingly, she’d done a bunch of episodic TV work including Dead at 21, La Femme Nikita and The Crow: Stairway to Heaven. In the intervening years she’s become a little more high class, doing episodes of Boardwalk Empire, The Americans and The Handmaid’s Tale, and most recently she directed and executive produced the entire six-episode run of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
Anyway I rented the DVD of what I assumed was a DTV movie, and later found out was “the first original action movie from Oxygen, the network owned and operated by women,” which I guess gives it some historic distinction. The negative side of a made-for-cable car thief movie: generic shot-in-Canada-TV filmatism. The positive: possibly the only circumstances in which such a movie would be a vehicle for an actress anything like Taryn Manning. Imagine a shorter, Gen-X Holly Hunter putting on a cool leather jacket and acting tough in a made-for-cable movie trying to fit in with the first couple FAST AND THE FURIOUSes – the ones where they were still thieves and had techno on the soundtrack and they were more associated with GONE IN 60 SECONDS and BIKER BOYZ than huge, culturally dominant blockbusters. This first aired in June of 2006, about a week after TOKYO DRIFT came out, so there were only two FASTs that existed when they made it.
Manning had been on the scene as an actor and singer since around ’99, and had pretty much just reached the point where she could headline a made-for-cable movie like this. I guess she had been in CRAZY/BEAUTIFUL (2001) and CROSSROADS (2002), but I knew her as Jimmy Rabbit’s ex-girlfriend Janeane in 8 MILE and the corn-rowed prostitute Nola in HUSTLE & FLOW. She also had a band with her brother Kellin called Boomkat, with an album on Dreamworks and songs on some of the aforementioned movies. (She also has a solo song called “Run Boy” on this one.)
Manning stars as master car thief Sage Rion. The cops know all about her but for some reason can never prove anything, so she is legendary and called “The Banshee.” Her secret is the same as all the other car thieves in town (seemingly a thriving industry): she drives real fast and goes through a secret door into a big crime boss’s chop shop/warehouse.
There’s a plot, which I will get to later, but what I found most fun about the movie was just seeing this character’s small-woman-with-a-big-attitude antics. Check out in the photo how she struts around with a “don’t fuck with me” look on her face. Her jacket says “RAT KING” on the back and you wonder for a while if that’s a band or a gang or something, but you don’t expect her to have an emotional monologue where she explains why rats with their tails grown together symbolize a formative event from her childhood. Or at least I didn’t.
She has a little bar she goes to to get information and weapons from the bartender, Dallas (Mike Tsar, “Bloated Alien,” 2001: A SPACE TRAVESTY). And they have the type of tough guy shorthand that she can walk in the door and say, “Blue Label. Bottle.” Doesn’t have to say “hello” or “please” or “could I get.” That’s how tough she is.
She chews gum, drinks whisky, beats up men a foot taller than her. They’re not, like, heavily choreographed fight scenes, but I got a kick out of a couple of them. In one she interrupts a guy (Maurizio Terrazzano, “Dinner Party Guest,” X-MEN: DARK PHOENIX) assaulting her friend Brenna (Genelle Williams, ORPHAN), and doesn’t really seem to care about that, but just wants to get back the fifty bucks Brenna borrowed. Anyway she does a good move using the car door to incapacitate him.
The other good one is the scene where she throws Fitzgerald (Michael Lombardi, Rescue Me), a handsome rookie cop who thinks he can be the guy to finally bust The Banshee, onto some train tracks. She starts to leave the tunnel but hears a train coming so she pulls him off and they stand intimately close as the train passes them – one of those sexual tension moments. Except then she sucker punches him in the gut and runs off.
She works for some dangerous people. When she gets called into the boss’s office to be dressed down for “coming back hot” (getting chased by the cops, possibly giving away the location of their chop shop), the boss (Tony Calabretta, PUNISHER: WAR ZONE) points to a horribly mutilated body on the couch and says it’s a guy who was killed for the exact same infraction. Sage accepts her half payment and as she walks out she looks at the dead guy and says to him, “Sucks, dude.”
(That two word line and its delivery are my favorite thing in the whole movie.)
Sage has a maybe-boyfriend named Tony (Morgan Kelly, the racist pie guy in THE SHAPE OF WATER) who’s also a car thief. They make a bet that if she can’t steal a car before him she has to give him a blowjob. She thinks she’s got it in the bag when she nabs an “exquisite chariot” – a ’66 Dodge Charger with a license plate that says “BADASS” – but jesus christ how does the legendary The Banshee not notice that she drops her ID and leaves it right there in the empty parking space!? That is a serious foul-up, bleep and blunder.
She loses the bet anyway and seems okay with it but does not get to administer the blowjob because the owner of the Dodge is a psychopath who abducts Tony, leaving in his place a threatening letter and a body part or two.
So Sage has to steal the Dodge back and try to return it, angering the crime world to appease the serial killer, and the cops are after her too. Fitzgerald starts to believe her about this guy and fall for her, though that changes when he and his more grizzled partner Rindall (Romano Orzari, also in PUNISHER: WAR ZONE) happen to be at her loft when she discovers Tony’s severed head. (I really didn’t know Oxygen went this hard!)
Since Tony’s not around to be the damsel in distress, that role will be fulfilled by Sage’s friend Brenna, who seems like kind of an idiot, but also very sweet. You can see why Sage is protective of her and tries to teach her how to punch to defend herself. But she doesn’t believe in violence.
The trouble comes when Sage lets Brenna go dancing in her Rat King jacket, which the killer recognizes (see also: the European Muay Thai Championship jacket in COLD HELL). It’s a dance party called “Green Fiend” according to the flyer, which promises “FUNKY * TEKNO * TRIBE.” The DJ, Larch (Christian Campbell, Max Steel), invites her into the booth and then to his apartment, and we figure out he’s the killer even before he asks her, “Can I show you a dog brain?”
She should be more freaked out by that, but check out her pitch perfect halfway-pretending-to-be-interested-in-the-stupid-shit-this-guy-is-going-on-about look. A good performance. It turns out maybe BANSHEE is also a little influenced by the SAW movies and all that stuff because now we have a sadistic killer who makes dance tracks based around torturing women, recording their screams and his excited heartbeat. Please do not support DJ Larch – his music sucks but also is unethical.
For the climax, Sage comes to rescue Brenna and has to work her way through a display set up by DJ Jigsaw here. She finds a stabbed mannequin in her jacket. The place is mic-d so when she yells “Where is she!?” it echoes and goes into the “tekno” mix he’s doing for the dance party and a live webcast. But Sage saves Brenna and is pissed that Fitzgerald shows up and stops her from killing Larch with a sledge hammer. Almost got ‘im. That would’ve been a good ending.
I can’t claim this is a good movie. The performances outside of the two lead females are kinda bland, the car chases are completely rote, it is fair to call it “dopey” (as the New York Post did in a pretty positive 2 1/2 star review) and “ridiculous” (as Variety did), but I don’t agree with their elaboration that it is “exploitative and downright creepy.” I enjoyed it in the same way I did some of the much more polished but similarly preposterous studio b-movies of the era, and I’m a connoisseur of star vehicles for unlikely leads (see also: George Kennedy in GUNS OF THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, John Saxon in THE GLOVE, Joseph Bologna in ALLIGATOR II: THE MUTATION, Ted Levine in THE MANGLER, Alix Koromzay in MIMIC 2, Patrick Warburton in THE WOMAN CHASER, Lucas Black in TOKYO DRIFT, Josh Brolin in JONAH HEX, Aaron Paul in NEED FOR SPEED, Toby Kebbell in , Dominiquie Vandenberg in THE MERCENARY, Bob Odenkirk in NOBODY.)
According to my research BANSHEE can be watched free with ads on Vudu or you can rent it on Prime or buy it real cheap on DVD.