Bad Girls (1994) is an occasionally hokey but appealing western with heroines at the center of the action.
An interesting factor that stuck out immediately was the fact that the tale opens in an integrated western town, as if someone actually knew how many African Americans went west & bucked the usual Hollywood myth that black folks were rare as hen's teeth.
Christian hicks have united against the town bordello, & are marching through town with a vengeful eagerness to shut down that den of iniquities.
At the same moment, a drunken whoremonger, Colonel Clayborne (Will McMillan), is beating the crap out of one of the prostitutes, Anita (Mary Stuart Masterson), for refusing to give him a wet kiss. He then starts shooting up the place.
The leader of the harlots is stern, beautiful Cody Zamora (Madelaine Stowe).
She's a sure-shot with a handgun, so when the Colonel attacks her gals & endangers her clientelle, she draws her own gun & that old dude's dead.
Without regard for justification, someone yells, "A whore shot the Colonel! Get her!" Momentarily she's being strung up by the sinister preacher (Harry Northup) while his flock sing hymns for the lynching.
A stunning fast-riding sequence orchestrated by three other harlots saves Cody from the noose & sets them all out on the lam. It's staged a bit more realistically than expected, convincing action in a totally wild west setting.
The girls are soon out of their harlot duds & dressed like cowgirls, not too awfully fashion-conscious as in such fashion-plate westerns as Young Guns (1988) & Gang of Roses (2003).
By comparison, the Bad Girls are costumed almost as people really might've dressed, strange though it is that they seem to have quite a number of changes of clothes & cowgirl hats while on the road.
The idea of action heroines is treated as less of a comic book & much more respectfully that can usually be expected, even though leaning on the fact that they're drop dead gorgeous hookers.
The gals on the run all have back-stories, which provide from a couple of them believable origins to their expertise riding & shooting. Cody is something of an ex bandit queen. Anita is a widow who lost her husband while travelling west to settle in Oregon.
Lilly, practically a child, is played by Drew Barrymore, who turns in the weakest performance plays her character like a juvenile delinquent with a heart of gold.
Yet Lilly believably enough got her riding & shooting skills when her daddy was alive & they were part of a wild west show, which has complete historical validity.
Eileen (Andie MacDowell) is the most slow-witted & innocent of the titular "bad girls." She looks heroic with a rifle & a steady gaze.
But really only Cody is a fully drawn character, however, & the rest have mostly support roles. But Cody is so serious in her visage that she carries the film pretty darned well.
None of which is to say it's a great western. It's barely even good. It's too full of cliches & it tells a herkyjerky story that doesn't care whether or not it makes a lot of sense.
Matilda (Zoaunne LeRoy), the town matriarch & Colonel's wife, was already peeved her husband was a whoremonger. Then suddenly one of those sluts shoots & kills the son of a bitch.
The widowed Clayborne is royally ticked off, & wealthy enough to hire the Pinkertons "To have that harlot killed or brought back to me no matter what."
She seems potentially a interesting foil, & too bad the story-values of the script are loosey-goosey rather than well structured, as we never see her again.
Each piece of western movie shtick that unfolds has only tangential connection to whatever comes before & after.
Soo it's a series of tableaus with plot threads abandoned willynilly without resolutions. So you gotta go along for the ride more than for the story.
We're at first led to believe that being pursued by two Pinkertons (Jim Beaver & Nick Chinlund) is apt to be serious danger for our four heroines, but they're kind of Keystone copsish, & ultimately just red herrings who couldn't find their own bungholes in an outhouse. The real villains of the piece will be bandits from Cody's past.
Anita has a deed for some property in Oregon. She & the other three gals decide to take the straight & narrow & found a sawmill on Anita's land, another plot thread that goes nowhere.
Without telling anyone, ever since the girls founded the bordello, Cody had been sending savings to the bank of the nearby town of Agua Dulce. She now tells the other girls about it, as she is willing to invest all of it to get a mill started.
Along the road to Agua Dulce, they meet a young man, Josh McCoy (Dermont Mulroney), on a mission of vengeance trying to track down Frank Jarrett (Robert Logia) who murdered his family.
After a tense encounter with the mistrustful girls, they part ways, but it's pretty obvious he'll show up again, & will be the primary male hero of the piece, who most assuredly will have his revenge even if it must sabotage a budding romance with Cody.
In the nearby town, while Cody is getting her savings out of the bank, bank robbers show up, led by Kid Jarrett (James Russo), an old "friend" of Cody's from days when she was a bandit queen.
Kid's one helluva good looking dude, & he sure seems to like Cody. But the timing of his robbery means the harlots-on-the-run will be mistaken for part of the gang of bandits.
He also takes Cody's savings, though we're led to believe he only did it to force her to drop by his secret headquarters to get it back.
We've seen that Cody has whiplash scars on her back, & by the time we realize how much she risks to return to the bandit lair hoping to get her money back, she's pretty much doomed to further scarring. It's really quite horrific.
Josh afterward finds her on the trail, whipped near death, & takes her to the Chinese labor camp where there's a healing herbalist (Beaulah Quo).
Soon the four gals have a new mission with most of the elements of the story up to now jettisoned. They now join forces with Josh to take down the bad-ass bandit-king Frank, & his sociopath son Kid Jarrett.
You could almost write the rest of it yourself, as there is little in the way of surprises. But there's a good deal of nicely staged action & violence.
There'll be one more good-guy character thrown in to win Eileen's heart, lonely rancher William (James LeGros), who will be closer to the damsel-in-distress than are any of the girls.
There's a gattling gun, threats of gang-rape against Lilly, culminating in an extravagant girls-vs-boys shoot-out & the one-on-one quickdraw duel between Kid Jarrett & Cody. Nice stuff even if void of originality beyond the novelty of having a girl hero.
There's one major tragedy to fuel the "justice" of the last fight & so it won't be a totally wussy happy-ever-after sort of story, though in the main it ends well for the girls.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl