The Banger Sisters (R)
Fox Searchlight Pictures
20th Century Fox
Now comes the dreaded and hopefully short-lived season between the blown-up blockbusters of summer and the Oscar-yearning holiday hits, when studios serve up their dinky cast-offs -- think of it as stinker season.
Here are three formulaic, badly written movies with umpteen million dollar combined budgets that, if not for star power, might not have made it onto the Lifetime television for women fall lineup.
Swimfan is a predictable, mean little adolescent version of Fatal Attraction with all its misogyny intact but devoid of any potentially interesting character development. Boring hunk Jesse Bradford plays Ben, a high-school swim team champ with a past fling as a juvenile delinquent. We know that Jesse's tight little family (single mom and son) is working class because they live in a mere house, not a compound, and they have -- yikes! -- jobs. Stanford swim team scouts are due to descend on campus and hand Jesse a fat scholarship the very week that new girl Madison Bell (Erika Christensen) makes her entrance. Madison's rich, pretty and crazy as a betsy bug beneath that round-eyed, apple-cheeked visage. She wants Jesse and she takes him, natch, in the school swimming pool, setting up an inevitable crisis of conscience for Jesse who has pledged his loyalty to his smarmy girlfriend Amy (Shiri Appleby) and who must now reject Madison.
You can guess the rest. Madison tears into his well-formed life like a shark hunting for fresh meat. The clues to Madison's string of devious acts are so firmly and obviously planted and Jesse is so oblivious that we begin to wonder if he hasn't inhaled a little too much chlorine. Swimfan goes on and on, to head-scratching extremes, proving once again that vulnerable, high-strung women/girls must be treated carefully, lest the coital act, especially with a really cute guy, sends them screaming over the edge.
Being trapped in Trapped, Hollywood's latest child abduction exploitation flick (talk about bad timing!) is about as much fun as being stuck in a dentist's chair for extended oral surgery, awake, with Muzak screaming overhead. Kevin Bacon and Courtney Love both give it their devilish best as demented kidnappers who snatch Katie, the adorable, asthmatic little blonde girl of beautiful Charlize Theron and her rich doctor husband, played by pretty boy Stuart Townsend. The first half of Trapped works fairly well with Theron breaking your heart as the desperate mother and Bacon chewing the scenery as the demented mastermind.
But the movie loses any credibility it has established by throwing in a plot twist involving the kidnappers' dead little girl, and by devolving into a James Bond rescue fantasy in its last 20 minutes. Car chases, airplane acrobatics and great balls of fire conclude what began as a quiet psychological thriller. And, of course, a thriller just wouldn't be a thriller if the hostess in distress didn't run around in her panties for at least 20 minutes.
And here's a brilliant new twist: Both Swimfan and Trapped introduce as major characters the cell phone and -- tah-dah! -- the Palm Pilot. Neither film has as much as three minutes of footage in which the characters are not diddling with their high-tech toys. In fact, neither of these films, as written, could have been made without these stylish telecommunication devices, which apparently serve as substitute brains. It's a marriage made in media-conglomerate heaven.
Well off the road to fiendish, criminal dementia, but diverted from the path of palatable comedy by a terrible script and leaden directing is The Banger Sisters, proving once and for all that women over 50 can be sexy so long as they can fit into a pair of snakeskin hip-huggers and can dance in platform shoes. Goldie Hawn gives it her hippie-dippie best as Suzette, a washed-up flower child cum hooker who reunites with her former best friend, fellow rock star groupie Vinny, 20 years later. But Vinny has become Lavinia (Susan Sarandon) in the interim, stuck-up wife of an aspiring Phoenix politician and slave to her two bratty, spoiled daughters, Ginger (Sarandon's real-life daughter Eva Amurri) and Hannah (Erika Christensen).
Geoffrey Rush is inexplicably awkward in the supporting role of Harry, a nerdy guy Suzette picks up on the road from L.A. to Phoenix, but then almost every spoken word in The Banger Sisters is awkward as written. Sarandon and Hawn steal a few good moments when they are re-bonding after all these years, but I suspect they must have been improvising the dialogue.
What's to hate about The Banger Sisters? Abysmal pacing, Rush's weird accent, Sarandon's pathetic character, dumb caricatures and the relationship between teen-agers and grown-ups, horrible whiny teen-agers, and the notion that being drunk for 20 years is somehow more liberating than choosing a buttoned-down life.
What's to like? Hawn's muscle tone and her absolute perfection as a melting-down boozehound who knows her time has passed but can't give up the gig of sexpot. Suzette isn't a departure for Hollywood's favorite kooky, aging blonde, but Hawn plays her so well we can forgive her for, at the very least, being redundant.
-- Kathryn Eastburn