Christopher Bricknel, director of the new Films Colacitta release Bad Girls, wears the film’s tiny budget as a badge of pride. Made for $16,000, which as Bricknel points out is “about one-half of the catering budget for a typical made-for-TV movie,” Bad Girls is a pastiche to the gritty exploitation films from guys like Russ Meyer and John Waters while also having a healthy splash of Troma thrown in for good measure. Such an approach can really be a gamble, though, as for every successful homage there are piles of lazy dreck with no real thought made actually telling a story. Thankfully, a sincere approach to the material from Bricknel and the entire cast and crew place Bad Girls firmly in the former category.
Like any good trashy road trip movie, Bad Girls kicks off with a robbery at a strip club, as recently escaped prisoners Val (Morgan Shaley Renew), Mitzi (Sanethia Dresch), and Carolyn (Shelby Lois Buinn) rob the joint of a large stash of money and drugs before embarking on a crime spree filled with violence, drugs, and a couple of detours to kidnap Bard Gainsworth (Cleveland Langdale) and Xerox Rhodesia (Micha Peroulis), Val and Mitzi’s favorite rock stars, respectively. At Val’s direction, the group continues to take riskier and riskier chances in the name of controlling their own destiny, even as FBI agents Cannon (Mike Amason) and McMurphy (Dove Dupree) continue to close in on them.
On paper, we have elements for a great road caper of a movie, but a premise is nothing if there’s no real narrative conflict pushing the story forward. Too often these kinds of movies just wind up being strings of scenes stitched together for the sake of hitting a feature length run time, making crass jokes, and flashing some skin. But while the film is certainly crass (which I say as a compliment), Bricknel and co writer Shane Silman manage to push the story forward by exploring the ever-increasing levels of stress in the group’s dynamic, as Val’s need to push the envelope and take bigger risks clashes with Mitzi and Carolyn’s more modest desires to get across the border.
All three of our leads juggle this tension well. Their performances are a little rough around the edges, but that’s to be expected given this kind of movie and they all bring something genuinely interesting to the table. As Val, Renew gives a delightfully unhinged vibe that keeps you guessing when (not if) she’s going to go off. Buinn is damn charming as Carolyin, who seems pretty good-natured for someone we learned has previously crashed her car into a church. But for me, the emotional core of the trio is Dresch, who as Mitzi seems to bring the most polished, nuanced performance as she tries to balance the rush of what they’re doing with the hassle of wrangling Val before she gets them captured or killed.
I was also pleasantly surprised by the supporting players, as Langdale and Peroulis play the kidnapped rockers with a fun blend of anxiety and amusement (admittedly, in the context of the story the amusement is nudged along with copious amounts of drugs). But what could have been one-note distractions actually wind up being relatively nuanced characters (at least for this kind of movie) for whom the only real complaint I have is that they actually take some of the spotlight away from our trio of antiheroes as the movie progresses. Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t tip my cap to Amason, who plays Agent Cannon as something of a misogynist Colonel Sanders.
Now, for anyone worried that I’m talking a bit too much about character development for what’s supposed to be a trashy grindhouse movie, don’t get me wrong. The above elements are really just the base to allow all the hijinks of the movie to flourish, including ample amounts of sex, drugs, and violence to go around. The sex is more of a vibe in the film, as Bricknel avoids getting too male gazy and even dips into a bit of homoeroticism between our kidnapped rockers. The drugs, meanwhile, permeate a lot of the visual aesthetics of the film, with plenty of erratic jump cuts and trippy colors weaved through the cinematography.
And then there’s that violence. I honestly cannot think of a movie where more people get shot in the head than this one. It almost becomes a running gag in the film, not to mention all manner of stabbings, ass kickings, and shoot outs where no one (not even babies) are safe. And while I believe I spotted a few dodgy CGI blood splashes here and there, for the most part the effects seem to be practical, charmingly low-budget, and messy in all the right ways.
Now, it’s important to remember that I’m judging this movie on a steep micro-budget curve. Those looking for anything resembling a polished product are bound to be let down. And at 97 minutes, I’d argue that Bricknel could have shaved off a solid 10-15 minutes without losing any of the plot. But with a movie like this the flaws are part of the charm, and I appreciate that everyone involved with the film knows what they’re making, but doesn’t let that stop them from putting in the work and making something truly fun. Bad Girls is a gonzo, nasty little road trip, and I’m glad I tagged along for the ride.