Saturday, March 26, 2011

Movie Review: "Hobo With A Shotgun" by David Pretty

Greetings, Gratuitous Gorehounds!

Well, if you live in my neck of the woods and you haven't heard anything about resident splatter-meister / cinematic wunderkind Jason Eisener's first feature film Hobo With A Shotgun, then you must be living in a graffiti-covered dumpster underneath the MacKay bridge.  For the benefit of you sad souls, here's the film's kick-ass trailer:

This week sees the Canadian premiere of the Halifax/Dartmouth lensed ode to grindhouse flicks.  And although the film is loyal to it's skid-row sensibilities, I still think could have been a bit slicker in some departments.  But we'll get to that in a moment...

I won't bore anyone with the genesis of the feature film, since either people have heard the story already ad nauseum or the full tell-o is readily available to anyone who cares to "Google" it.  The thing I will stress is that of all the offerings that were tabled to Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez to add authenticity to their Grindhouse feature film, Eisener's vicious, hyper-violent mock-preview  actually outclassed (in my humble opinion) some of the "professional" fake trailers.   

Werewolf Women of the S.S., I'm looking at you, pal. 

So, I think it made a lot of sense to spin this off into a feature film.  Here, the Hobo in question (Rutger Hauer, replacing the trailer's original derelict David Brunt) disembarks from his train car in a new town, hoping for greener pastures.  Unfortunately he's chosen to make his stop in a burg that looks suspiciously like Halifax but is alternately referred to as "Scumtown" and "Fucktown".  Hmmmm...maybe he shoulda just hopped right back into the next boxcar and saved himself a lungful of grief.

'Cuz this city's got more grief than Gotham.  The town's criminal overlord is The Drake (Brian Downey), a rubber-faced, pristine-suited basket-case with a gloriously obvious Newfoundland accent who rules with an iron first.  We barely get into the first reel before the Hobo witnesses Drake creatively execute an incompetent nephew (Trailer Park Boys alum Rob Wells) while his two gleefully repellent sons Slick (Gregory Smith) and Ivan (Nick Bateman) cheer him on.

These two rejects from a Larry Clark film soon make the grievous oversight of messing with resident hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold Abby (Molly Dunsworth), which prompts a coin-encumbered sock beating from our Hobo.  Our hero tries to perform a citizen's arrest but it's soon evident that the cops in the city are squarely in the pocket of The Drake.  When the terrible twosome exact some nasty revenge on the Hobo and leave him for dead, Abby comes to his rescue and nurses him back to health.          

After flirting with a few terrible temp jobs (Hey, who hasn't had some gigs in their day that felt like eating glass?), the Hobo is prevented from purchasing his mulching ticket to freedom when the pawn shop he's standing in is invaded by three homicidal robbers.  Their incursion is the last straw and we can't help but cheer when the Hobo defers his more mundane purchase in lieu of a conveniently placed 12-gage and promptly starts cleaning up the streets "one shell at a time".

Naturally, the age-old passion play of revenge and up-the-ante counter-revenge inexorably unspools for the balance of the film's run time.  In quick succession we're treated to pervy cops reduced to liquid form, a school bus turned into an impromptu Dutch oven, a pack of machete-wielding armored lunatics who look like walking boiler engines, creative use of severed limbs, death by toaster and a götterdämmerung climax that makes the finale of  Death Proof look like Fried Green Tomatoes.

The film delivers on what you might expect from a film called Hobo With A Shotgun.  It's grainy, sleazy, violent, profane and creatively anarchic.  Witness one twisted and completely inexplicable scene whereby Drake lectures his boys about family business, whilst and at the same time, a hanging slab of human meat is tenderized in the background by three topless chicks armed with baseball bats.  I guarantee that no film you see this year will make you feel more like running home and taking a forty-five minute shower.

Despite it's skid-row aesthetics (or perhaps because of it) Hobo With A Shotgun is energetically directed and edited.  The Hobo's grand guignol revenge montage, the vicious kitchen brawl, the hospital slaughter and Abby's revenge at the end of the film are all more punishing then a back-hoe on top of a cardboard box filled with transients.  The gore effects are competently mounted and it's no suprise why the crew needed the services of a "blood truck" to keep their grue train a-rollin'.

The collective performances really help to elevate the film's shortcomings.  Rutger Hauer is perfectly cast and there is tremendous nuance in his deliveries.  He's afforded a few real meaty moments (like the nursery scene) that is evocative of Roy Batty's soliloquy at the end of Blade Runner.  His heavily lined face, willingness to look totally gnarly and always expressive eyes make him hypnotic to watch.

Mark my words right now: expect great things from Molly Dunsworth.  As Abby, she's world-weary beyond her years and towards the end of the film manages to generate some real gravitas with a rousing speech even when it's book-ended by visual and verbal lunacy.  The protective father/doting daughter relationship that develops between the two manages to be convincing even if the two leads don't get a ton of help from the script.  It's a real testimony to the skill of the actors.

The bad guys also turn in some lively perfs.  Brian Downey in particular chews more scenery per capita than Jeremy Irons in Dungeons & Dragons.  Gregory Smith and Nick Bateman are gleefully reprehensible and you just dread what sick new whims they may indulge in next.  Unfortunately, the script only asks cartoonish uber-villainy from them.  It's like the the screenwriters are grabbing us by the lapels and screaming in our face: "Aren't they just stinkers?  Don't cha just hate these miserable pricks?  You gotta be  counting the seconds before they're inevitably dispatched in a blast of buckshot, right, right!?"

Which brings me to what I didn't care for in the film.  Now, it's gonna be easy to people to rebut: "Yeah, but this film is pure exploitation; the sorta flick that plays at the Wrong Side Of The Tracks Theater and comfortably shares a double bill with Cannibal Holocaust."   To a certain extent I'll grant you that point, since in many ways Hobo With A Shotgun is truer to it's influences then, say, Planet Terror

But in my humble opinion, the film could have honored it's pedigree and still kicked it up a few notches.  That would have made for a truly transcendental and immortal film for the ages.  Frankly, a lot of the dialogue sounds like desperate attempts to create memorable quotes just by juxtaposing a bunch of random obscenities.  A lot of it generated chuckles from the audience, because people just don't talk like that.   This was fine for a two minute long fake trailer but spun out over a feature-length film, it begins to wear on you.

Also, the very little moments of character development seem to be schizophrenically crashed through, presumably so we can get back to the next scenes of mayhem.  With just a little bit more polish, the script could have given us some more hooks to sustain us.  Why did the Hobo become a drifter?  Why does Abby in particular have no other alternative at all in her life?  Why are the Drake and his sons so gratuitously and haphazardly evil?  What did they do to get so powerful?  Don't they realize that constantly doing random, sick, crazy shit is just plain stupid from a self-preservation point of view?

Now, I didn't expect My Dinner With Andre here, but a few strategic scenes with good, economic, naturally-flowing dialogue would have done wonders.  I really don't give a crap how easy it is to say "Well, it's exploitation, like an E.C. comic book.  The characters are supposed to be broad-stroke archetypes", the audience still needs to understand what's running underneath the hood of these people in order to emphasize, and subsequently, give a shit about what happens to them.  Otherwise it becomes boring, like watching someone else mash buttons on an NES controller. 

Nevertheless, this is a very ambitious start from Eisener and company and these guys really deserve a pat on the back for trying to lift Canadian cinema out of the slice-of-life ghetto it's labored under for so many years.  It's a real giddy thrill to see places I walk by habitually projected all over North American movie screens.  These guys have worked their flannel-clad asses off and they deserve every iota of success coming to them.

If anything, Hobo With a Shotgun is the real deal.  So much so that I fear it may not resonate with more people above and beyond freaks like myself who were reared on such extreme cinematic fare.


out of five.  Tilt: up. 

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Movie Review: "Paul" by David Pretty

Greetings, Proponents of Projected Portraiture! 

Okay, first off, let's get this out of the way right now.  I have a confession.  I have a bit of a man-crush on Simon Pegg:

Okay, well, maybe that's wasn't the best photo to support my claim.  But in every interview and role I've seen my boy in, he just seems like the kind of piker that would fit well into my own eclectic circle of friends. 

Ever since  Shaun of the Dead became one of my favorite films of all time, I've followed this dude's career closely.  I'm particularly keen on the projects he co-writes with Edgar Wright.  Although I took a lot of heat (fuck you very much, Mark and Brian) for liking Hot Fuzz, I really dug that film's take on the typical Hollywood buddy cop blockbuster by way of Stratford-Upon-Avon.  Admittedly, although I enjoyed it, it wasn't nearly as lean and mean as Shaun was.   

But now the dynamic writing duo have a new project called Paul.  Here's the trailer just to whet yer slavering appetites: 

So, needless to say, given the track record of human/alien buddy comedies (Mac and Me, Alien Nation, Double Team...up yours, Dennis Rodman certainly does qualify as an alien) I didn't hold out a lot of hope for Paul.  But, hey, *SURPRISE!*...I liked it!

The film earns early brownie points with me as it shows Graeme (Pegg) and Clive (Nick Frost) as they stumble, slack-jawed around the spectacle that only San Diego's nerd mecca Comic-Con could possible provide.  After the festivities they intend to rent an RV and tour all across the south-western United States looking for famous U.F.O. hotspots.  After a run-in with a couple of rejects from Deliverence,  the boys witness a terrible car accident and pull off the road to help.  It's here that they meet the titular runaway alien Paul, who, as it turns out, is in desperate need of an assist.

After the initial shock of learning that life exists beyond the stars (and it wears cargo shorts), Graeme and Clive agree to help our little interstellar fugitive.  Along the way they meet a cyclopean love interest for Graeme in the form of RV park attendant Ruth Buggs (Kristen Wiig).  She's a devout evangelical creationist and needless to say, her blind (pun!) faith is undermined when she meets Paul and discovers that there's more to the heavens then what her fundamentalist father (John Carroll Lynch) has told her.

Unbeknownst to our protagonists, powerful (and hopelessly inept) forces are aligning against them.  Paul's escape has raised the ire of a shadowy government agency, led my a mysterious, unseen dragon lady who barks order out to her field agents.  Chief amongst them is Jason Bateman as the unfortunately named Lorenzo Zoil (try saying it three times real quick).  As someone who will always see Bateman as Ricky Schroeder's l'il pal on Silver Spoons, it's hard for me to see him playing a ruthless bad-ass, but he actually acquits himself quite well here.  Especially so when juxtaposed against two local agents he recruits which include the dorky, bumbling O'Reilly (Joe Lo Truglio) and the relentlessly over-dramatic Haggard (played by the always-funny Bill Hader).

During their flight from the feds, more is revealed about Paul.  He crashed landed on our big blue marble and was promptly spirited away to a secret government think tank.  Over the past sixty years he's been disclosing the collective knowledge of  his people, not the mention serving as an unlikely muse to both Steven Spielberg and Chris Carter.  Needless to say, Paul had taken to human culture quite readily, so now he's just as irreverent, abrasive and matter-of-fact as the rest of us.

Special alien powers?  Paul's got 'em.  He can cloak himself Predator-style for as long as he can hold his breath, heal physical trauma and mentally transfer his collective experiences to others.  Of course, none of these things are never used as convenient script contrivances.  Naaaaaaah!

We soon learn that once Paul divulged all of his trade secrets, he suddenly became a tempting a subject for surgical tinkering.  With aid from an insider at Area 51, Paul escapes and manages to contact his alien brethren to swing by and pick him up at a certain traditional alien landing pad in Wyoming.  Although the classics never die, part of me can't help but think that he should have gone for a less obvious spot, like maybe a Denny's in Sheboygan.
Director Greg Mattola, who's previous films Adventureland I liked and Superbad I positively loved, really paces the film quite well.  It's a surprisingly even picture, striking a good balance between yuks, quiet moments of character development, well-coordinated action scenes and CGI spectacle.  As soon as the film starts playing around with conventions, however, it really finds it pedigree.  In one memorable example, Graeme and Clive are terrified by the threat of a potential probing, so Paul can't help but stoke their fears a little with some hot bagel hole action.      

Simon Pegg is a master at portraying clueless astonishment.  He essentially playing himself here but, as the old adage goes, if it ain't broke, don't improvise it.  He does turn in more than his fair share of inspired line readings that had me cracking up.  Nick Frost is earnest and self-affacing as Clive.  Unlike his character in Shaun, here he's playing a bloke who is considerably more sensitive and it's fun to watch his confidence build from fragile to forceful.  It makes the built-up ninja sword gag at the end pay off so well that I nearly laughed myself into a hernia.

Speaking of, if there's still anyone out there that doesn't think that Kristen Wiig isn't the funniest thing to happen to SNL in years?  When Paul transfers his collective knowledge to her, she instantly goes from myopic Jesus Camp alumni to eyes wide open verbal hedonist.  Her first, tentative Tourette's-style swearing outbursts usually resulted in tears spontaneously shooting out of my eyes.  I may have to see this again if only because I missed a few gags during paroxysms of hysteria.

Paul himself is a completely believable creation, kinda like an extraterrestrial Gollum with considerably better people skills.  Technically he's flawless and occasionally you may be distracted during close-ups as you notice the opacity of his skin or how his cool protective inner eyelids work.  He's voiced with pitch-perfect wryness by Seth Rogan.  What I love about Paul is just how unassuming he is.  Like Graeme, Clive and Ruth he's just another dude who so happens to be from another planet.

Providing the screenwriters with a convenient excuse for complications, Paul visits Tara (Blythe Danner), who's dog he inadvertently squished when his spaceship crashed landed back in 1947.  Of course that little girl is now an older woman, and someone who's suffered a lifetime of ridicule for insisting that she rescued an alien from a flaming pile of wreckage.  When Paul shows up she just seems relieved to be vindicated and that she isn't barking mad after all.  Her reaction is a bit far fetched, especially when the agents show up, chaos ensues and her house blows up like an outhouse packed with C4 ("My weed!" she cries as the RV tears off). 
The script tries to pull the wool over our eyes on a few similar occasions.  For example, at one point we're asked to ignore how four distinct groups of people (the main characters, the FBI agents, the two rednecks and Ruth's crusading father) all managed to converge on the same spot all at once. 

But really, how can I possibly nitpick logic in a film about a laconic, trash talking, chain-smoking alien being smuggled back to his people by two British comic book nerds, a foul-mouthed lapsed Catholic and a stoner granny?  I hear you loud and clear: shut the fuck up and enjoy the belly laughs.

And they are plentiful.  By the time the script throws a curve ball by playing a shell game with some of the character's loyalties and the Big Bad is revealed (P.S. it's worth the wait), I was totally on board this faster- then-light craft.  Yes, you know that eventually Paul is going to have to use his powers to risk his own life and save another just as likely as you know that roller coaster car your in will start to plummet.  But that's part of the fun.   

I laughed my ass off during this flick.  It's filled with cheeky sci-fi one liners ("Get away from her, you bitch!") and funny visual gags (apparently Paul stayed at the Casa Del Lost Ark of the Covenant at one point).  The humor isn't broad, gross or cheap.  It comes organically from what we learn about the characters and what nutty situations they find themselves in.

Put your brain on idle, go and prepared to be pleasantly surprised.

out of  five.   Tilt: up.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Movie Review: "The Game" by David Pretty

Hey, Movie Freaks!

I'm on a bad streak here, folks.  I've seen a lot of crap films lately, so I recently turned to my favorite director for solace.  I'm relying on him to get me out of this slump and knock one outta the park for me.

I'm a huge David Fincher nut.  Seven was the alpha and omega prototypical thriller.  Fight Club is on my list of top five best films of all time.  I loved The Social Network.  I was riveted by Zodiac.  Hells, I even dug me some Benjamin Button.

So, naturally, when I continued unerringly on my quest to be a Fincher completist, it was inevitable that I would end up seeing this flick:


And, trust me, I didn't see this as a chore, given my boy's amazing track record.  But, as it turns out, my opinion of the flick is best summed up by this song by local alterna-vets Sloan:

Courtesy of The Game's visually arresting preamble we're privy to the strained relationship between a distant philanthropist and his two young sons.  Not long after, the horrified kids witness their patriarch take a lethal swan-dive off the roof of his phat palatial estate on the occasion of his forty-eighth birthday.

Nicholas Van Orton (Michael Douglas) grows up to be a wealthy and influential investment banker, but he's clearly damaged by what he witnessed as a child.  Distant and reserved, he's estranged from his wife and his ne'er do well brother Conrad (Sean Penn).  After acting like a Master of the Universe during the day, he returns home every night to a cold, empty mansion, with only his family's maid for company.

He's especially morose as he closes in on the same milestone that saw his father take his own life.  Sensing his brother's quiet desperation, Conrad gives him a birthday present from an outfit called Consumer Recreations Services.  When Nicholas grills him about what calling them entails, Conrad can only slyly remark that it will  make your life "fun."

After an especially frustrating day, Nicholas bites the bullet, visits the offices of CRS and then endures a battery of invasive physical and psychological tests to gauge his suitability for "The Game."  As irked as he is by all their nosy poking and prodding, he's even more incensed when he receives a call days later insisting that his application has been rejected.

But then inexplicable and odd things start to happen.  Evocative of his father's suicide, a "body" turns up in his parking lot.  Wayward keys and creepy harlequin dummies start turning up.  The phrase "T.V. that speaks to you" is taken to extremes.

Eventually Van Orton's professional integrity is in jeopardy, his copious finances have been drained, his home is ransacked and seemingly innocent bit players (notably an attractive waitress played by Debra Unger) find themselves pulled into jeopardy along with him.  The panic factor is cranked up to '11' when a frantic Conrad reappears to claim that CRS is out to get them and that they're both in tremendous danger.  "They fuck you and fuck you and fuck you, and just when you think it's over, that's when the real fucking begins!" he screams at one point.  We soon see that he ain't just talkin' 'bout tax season.

Throughout the balance of the film, we're left to anticipate if the "Game" is really legitimate or just a crude scheme to embezzle all of the victim's prodigious wealth.  Naturally a couple of prerequisite O.Henry-style twists are tacked on at the end that, in my opinion, viewers should able to see coming a mile away.  These moments also serve to strain the film's already non-existent believability.

By 1997, Micheal Douglas (like Harrison Ford, John Wayne, Clark Gable and Humphrey Bogart) had developed into a prototypical lead actor.  When Fatal Attraction, Basic Instinct and Wall Street all became wildly successful, these three roles seemed to define his screen presence henceforth.  And frankly there isn't much on display in The Game that would challenge that perception.

Truly, Nicholas Van Orton would be well at home at a stuffy dinner party alongside such smarmy company as Nick Curran, Gordon Gekko and Dan Gallagher.  Here, Nicholas starts as a rude, emotionally deceased cold fish who is really difficult to sympathize with as he becomes increasingly besieged.  Despite this, you know Douglas can do this sort of role in his sleep and we start to root for him more and more as his behavior becomes increasingly unhinged.  If the events of the film weren't so damned ludicrous, we'd find it easier to accept the character's ambitious growth arc.

Now, before I bring down the axe, I do want to state clearly that this is by no means a poor flick.  The directing is top notch, the neo-noir photography is fantastic, the action set pieces are well-mounted, the performances are convincing, and, except for a regrettable decision to use "cliche thriller music" consisting of haunting strains and jangly piano, the soundtrack's  strategic use of "White Rabbit" by Jefferson Airplane is inspired.

But, overall, I just didn't buy the film's core.  There are way to many 'smoking gun' questions.  How did former addict Conrad manage to bankroll this venture in the first place?  How did CRS know exactly what Nicholas was going to do, especially regarding exactly where he decided to do it?  And frankly, I don't care how much money and influence the antagonists have in the script's fantasy world, there's just no way all of the mayhem on display here could possibly go unnoticed by municipal, state or even federal authorities.  

Perhaps the most infuriating convention, however, is the protagonist's reaction to the film's "surprise ending".  I dare you to watch the finale and then reconcile how calmly Nicholas takes it all in.  Just ask yourself how you'd react and then try and keep the highly dubious meal the film-makers have tried to feed you down.  It can't be done.

I'm amazed that this film's been around for nearly fifteen years.  In all that time, I'm sure that, through a process of osmosis, some of the movie's allusions and subtleties have crept into my unconscious and perhaps spoiled a bit of it for me.  But even if this is the case, I quickly saw that there's only two ways the story could play itself out, and it's pretty clear mid-way through which way Fincher's gonna go with it.    

Also, given the age of the film, I'm tempted to think that my short temper with it is due somewhat to the fact that so many lesser films have since misappropriated the same hoary tropes and now The Game just seems contrived.

Whatever the reason, this one definitely isn't towards the top of the Fincher pantheon.  Made by a lesser filmmaker, I'd probably consider this to be sheer genius, but from one of the masters, I expected more.

                  Tilt: down.

P.S.  Alien 3 kinda sucked too, but hey, that was the product of committee decision and not one man's singular vision.  Frankly, if you gave Fincher an Alien flick now I'm confident that it would be the best of the series.  Or it would turn out at the end that Ripley was delusional and there were no aliens after all.    

Monday, March 7, 2011

Movie Review: "Barbarella" by David Pretty

Greeting, Cinema-Philes!

Barbarella is a movie just has to be seen to be believed.  Honestly, this is some seriously fucked up shit right here.

Now, I've seen some weird-ass films in my lifetime but Naked Lunch, Eraserhead, and Showgirls doesn't hold a candle to this parade of the surreal.  Whereas those flicks were deliberately odd or inexplicable, Barbarella is just the product of an era that I struggle to relate to.

When you sit down to watch this thing a tab of LSD should be as standard issue as 3-D glasses are to make Avatar a decent movie.

Speaking of being a product of its time, the film starts promisingly enough with a groovy theme song that's one part lounge lizard, one part Jefferson Airplane.  Get ready to hum this catchy little ditty for the rest of eternity:

In addition to this trippy pop confection, we're treated to an extended sequence whereby Jane Fonda as the titular character peels out of a hideous space suit (en route to her birthday suit) as the credits fly around her.

Above and beyond seeing more of Ms. Fonda then I'd ever anticipated on seeing in my lifetime, the effect of her zero-gravity strip-tease seems to have been achieved rather slyly.  I think director Roger Vadim pulled a fast one and just told her to lie on the floor of a studio, extricate herself from the costume and cast bits of it on the floor around her.  He then comped her into a background image representing the far wall of her spaceship.

This created a bizarre effect whereby things like her boots, gloves and helmet don't really "float away" in the "zero gravity" until she pushes them out of her way and they go rolling across the screen.  All in all, it's a pretty ghetto visual gimmick.

It also appears as if the film has the dubious honor of inspiring the moniker for a certain 80's era British pop outfit:

So, that's two-star demerit right there.
Our heroine soon receives an unannounced transmission from the President of the Earth (Claude Dauphin).  Nonplussed by his agent's gratuitous state of undress, he dispatches her to the planet Tau Ceti to try and retrieve the renowned scientist Durand Durand (Milo O'Shea).  Seems Durand to the Power of Two is the  inventor of the heinous Positronic Death Ray and now with Earth completely pacified and weapon-free the Prez is a bit freaked out that this rogue scientist is playing for the other team.

After accepting the assignment, Barbarella begrudgingly gets dressed in what I can only assume is her executrix power suit, consisting of spandex and a clear plastic bustier.

She then proceeds to take the helm of her spacecraft.  And, let me tell ya, folks, this spaceship is a dilly.  First off, the interior is tastefully decorated with what appears to be wookiee pelts.   Seriously, what the fuck is it with people in the Sixties and shag carpeting?  Jesus.

Also inexplicably scattered about the ship are impressionist paintings, Dionysian statues and convenient walk-in closets.  I think a lot of the design work can be explained away as soon as you hear Alfie, the voice of the ship itself.  Just between you and me, I think Alfie's a little light in the stabilizers.  But, hey, that's cool.

Soon we're "treated" to a pretty harrowing brown acid trip across the galaxy.  Unlike every other sci-fi flick, the special effects guru's here didn't feel compelled to represent space in Barbarella with the traditional star field.  No, apparently the grand expanse of the cosmos can just as easily be depicted using a full aquarium and copious amounts of food coloring.  Whoa, man.  

Eventually our heroine crash-lands on Tau Ceti, which on the surface looks like the set of Ice Capades.  She's approached by a pair of creepy, Esperanto-spouting little girls who make the kids in Village of the Damned look like Jonathan Lipnicki. These two kids manage to subdue our renowned special agent, tie her up and then race her across the surface of the planet on their dogsled.  Well, actually, that's not entirely accurate.  Replace the word "sled" with the word "skis" and the word "dog" with "inflatable manta ray".

Seriously, you can't make this shit up.

The two little girls cart Barbarella back to their settlement which is populated by rabbits which have been spray-painted blue, carnivorous dolls and a bunch of Lord of the Flies-rejects all wearing red fright wigs.  She's eventually rescued by Mark Hand (Ugo Tognazzi), a "Catchman" who patrols the planet's surface for the purpose of, um...catching things. After Barbarella uses her "tongue box" (!) to translate what Hand's saying, she's chagrined to hear that his one and only request for a reward consists of some good ole-fashioned boot-knockery.

Which brings me to the one and only interesting thing about the movie.  In the (very) distant future depicted in the film (the year 40,000 if you actually give a crap), traditional ugly-bumping has become passe in lieu of popping an Exaltation Transference Pill, pressing palms together with your fuck buddy and then waiting patiently for your "psychocardiograms" to come into "perfect harmony" with one another.  That's hot.

Well, our intrepid Catchman will have nothing of this new-fangled chicanery and casually insists on being rewarded in the "old fashioned way", which makes you wonder if he specializes in catching things that subsequently require a shot or some sort of topical cream. A great, unintentionally funny moment follows when Mark Hand doffs his uniform, which appears to be the business end of a rental gorilla suit, and the audience is hard pressed to tell the difference between the before and after.  I'm tellin' ya, this motherfucker is Class-5 Robin Williams hairy! 

After we're treated to a clever visual gag which brings to mind stock footage of trains going into tunnels and animated hot dogs jumping into buns, we see Barbarella languishing in bed and humming contentedly in the afterglow of what we can only assume to be a skillful bout of traditional whoopie-making.  While THE MAN fixes her spaceship, our gal Barb gets dressed in a practical, new outfit which appears to be an amalgam of stitched-together skunk pelts.

Soon the two part ways, leaving Barbarella to wistfully admit that "sometimes the old-fashioned ways are best".  She's learned from her cro-magnon shag buddy that Durand Squared may now reside in Sogo, the City of Night, on the other side of the planet.  She decides to take a shortcut by burrowing through the planet (?), but crashes and damages her ship again in the process.  I swear, this chick's landing record is worse then Luke Skywalker's in The Empire Strikes Back.

After being knocked out by a landslide of foam boulders, she's revived by a blind, earth-bound, disconcertingly Aryan-looking angel by the name of Pygar (John Phillip Law).  He takes her to the Labyrinth, where exiles from the city of Sogo have gathered.  She's then introduced to Professor Ping, who graciously agrees to help her repair her ship. Ping is played by Marcel Marceau which leads me to believe that he was probably banished from Sogo for walking against the wind too many times.  BA-dum-tsssh!

Not long after, Pygar saves Barbarella from an incursion by the evil Black Guards from the City of Night.  Please note that from here on in I refuse to refer to the titular character as "our heroine" since she's done absolutely nothing so far to warrant that moniker.

Apparently her little dalliance with The Missing Link has dislodged something internally, and Barbarella insists on rewarding Pygar for the rescue with some more vintage rogering.  Not surprisingly, Pygar immediately regains the power of flight.

I'm tellin' ya, folks, it ain't just Red Bull that gives ya wings!    BA-dum-tsssh!

Anyway, to make a long story slightly less long, Pygar flies Barbarella to Sogo, where she (in quick succession)...
  •   Destroys an entire fleet of enemy defense craft with what appears to be a novelty pop gun.
  •   Gets rescued (for a third time) by a salacious, eye-patched, switch-blade wielding hootchie who keeps referring  to Barbarella as "Pretty, Pretty."
  •   Nearly gets pecked to death by a savage flock
  •   Is rescued yet again (#4 for those of you at home keeping score) by a revolutionary leader named Dildano.  Seriously, after this I thought it was just a matter of time before Lieutenant Buttpluggio was introduced.  
  • Gets to simulate all the satisfaction of being rescued by being placed by Durand Durand himself inside the organ-like Excessive Machine, I.E. the often miss-labeled Orgasmatron.  Yeah, did I mention she ends up overheating the damned thing?
Yeah, I'm sure you get the picture by now.  Roger Vadim wanted to turn his then-wife Jane Fonda into a sex symbol so that's why she's in this hunk of excessive cheesecakery.  The funny thing is, Fonda actually turns in a bravura performance and strikes the perfect balance between deadpan serious line deliveries, non-irritating helplessness and all the while throws in the occasional knowing wink to the audience.

Most of the costumes, special effects and sets are dreadful and make what was on display in Logan's Run look like friggin' Alien.  Except for the convincing Labyrinth set, most of the film's backdrops look like they were designed by Bob Mackie on an PCP bender.

Vadim's direction is pretty static and pedestrian, which is in direct opposition to the film's over the top visual style.  Honestly, where the film succeeds at all is in the loopy pop-psychology dialogue.  Witness this little tete a tete:

President: We don't know anything about Tau Ceti or its inhabitants.
So they could still be living in a primitive state of neurotic irresponsibility?      

There's plenty of mock-clinical terms and pop psychology babble, all of which was a real fad at the time.  I like how the script subtly takes the piss out of this kind of self-analytical quackery.

But it's in it's view of female sexual power that I find the film has any worth at all.  At first, Barbarella's libido has been repressed by a patriarchal, sanitized, state-mandated, chemically saturated view of sex.  As soon as she's "off the pill" so to speak, she begins to feel real visceral pleasure and her sex drive goes through the roof.  She's instantly liberated and her newly discovered sexual power is so great it destroys the male-designed Excessive Machine organ.   

Read into this what you will, but it doesn't take Durand Durand's big brain to interpret what this meant for women in the Sixties.

Unfortunately this intriguing message is buried under the character's hapless, chronic waifism and the film's hopelessly dated production design which is clearly the product of psychotropic drugs.  I'd recommend watching it if only to see where Mike Myers got all of his comedic visual clues for the Austin Powers flicks.

out of  five, y'all.  Huuuuge tilt up.