WFTB Score: 3/20
The plot: During the Second American Civil War, mercenary ex-soldier Barbara ‘Barb Wire’ Kopetski runs the Hammerhead bar in the sole remaining free city, Steel Harbor. She cares for no-one but herself, but when an ex-lover and his valuable new wife turn up looking for protection and a passport to Canada, she finds the lives of those she loves endangered and her loyalties tested.
If you’ve ever watched Casablanca and found yourself thinking ‘It’s okay, but if only it was set in the future; and instead of Humphrey Bogart, couldn’t our hero be a blonde woman with big breast implants? That would be so much better,’ Barb Wire may be the film for you. I’ve never heard of Dark Horse comics so am unable to tell you whether the rip-off plot comes from a comic or is new for the film, but in essence it doesn’t really matter: Barb Wire is Casablanca, but in the future. And with boobs.
So, instead of Rick’s Bar, Casablanca, in 1942 we have the neon-grungy Hammerhead, Steel Harbor, in 2017. There is a Resistance, but now feisty gun-wielding club owner Barb (Pamela Anderson [Lee]) takes no sides between them and a nasty, torturing regime called the Congressional Directorate (they’re the ones who look like Nazis). The Directorate are searching for a woman called Cora D (Victoria Rowell), whose DNA holds the antidote to a HIV-related disease called, tastelessly, Red Ribbon; in turn, Cora and her husband Alex (Temuera Morrison) are looking for a pair of contact lenses that will defeat retinal scans, thereby offering Cora safe passage to Canada – the Canadian dollar now being the only safe currency (this may be an intentional joke, and if so it is the film’s funniest by a long chalk). Watching over all with a jaundiced eye, Xander Berkeley is Willis, the equivalent of Claude Rains’ Renault, albeit a Renault taking a keen interest in Rick’s curves.
I cannot tell you whether the plot of this film, a would-be straight-to-video release given undue prominence by the presence of Anderson (at the time hot Baywatch property) makes sense to people who have never seen Casablanca. What I can tell you with relief is that this film is so bad that it deserves its fate, namely sinking without trace, and so barely registers in any discussion of Curtiz’ all-time classic. It’s not just that the Mad Max-style vision of the future is dreadfully boring and cheaply realised, or that shoehorning hokey sci-fi elements (mind-reading machines, for example) into the plot fails dismally; or that chucking in a whiny blind brother called Charlie (Jack Noseworthy) completely fails to make Barb more sympathetic. Anderson dismally fails to bring the film to life, her supposed sexiness coming over as completely plastic, and more importantly delivering every line with the quotation marks intact. Mind you, she is in good company: Temuera Morrison goes through the exaggerated fighting and gunplay competently enough, but in terms of personality he and his wife are both complete blanks. It’s just as well that the film has cheapo movie staples such as noisy violence and exploding vehicles at regular intervals to keep things moving along.
Where Barb Wire deviates from the plot of Casablanca, it quickly veers into the grotesque, most obviously in the appearance of Andre Rosey Brown as Big Fatso, an obese chicken-gorging black man transported around in a digger. I’ll draw a veil over him and draw your attention to a number of Bad Movie gems for you to spot during the film’s climax, quite apart from the maniacal Nazi Congressional Directorate baddie doing a big song-and-dance when he has the chance to kill our heroine:
- Cars blocking the path of Barb’s big truck explode themselves out of the way before the truck hits them (another take? No fear!)
- Pam’s stuntperson (very probably male) is at least a foot taller than the diminutive star he or she is doing stunts for
- (and my favourite) One of the clunkiest manipulations to a killer-catchphrase you will ever witness:
Not Nazi: This is just like my favourite song: I got you babe!
Barb Wire: Don’t call me babe… (her other witty comeback, by the way, is ‘Shut up’).
For those who hold Casablanca dear, Barb Wire is tantamount to blasphemy, and it fails to update the story successfully into the action genre just as badly as it fails to make an alluring film star out of the pouty Ms Anderson (for those particularly interested in such things, most of the teenage-targeted titillation is over by the end of the opening credits). For all that, it retains a semblance of bad movie charm that saves it from being classified amongst utter piffle like Showgirls. And we’ll always have Seattle…