Monday, February 25, 2013

DVD/Blu-ray: "Girls Against Boys" is anti-shocking, anti-provocative, one wins, not even the girls

Girls Against Boys (2013)
92 min., rated R.

Men are pigs and they deserve what they get. That's the one and rather reductive point behind "Girls Against Boys," a confused and mostly dull "rape-revenge picture" from writer-director Austin Chick (who toyed with gender roles more convincingly in 2002's "XX/XY"). Palming itself off as a post-feminist critique, the film thinks it has something to prove but mistakes fetishization of babes with guns for female empowerment, its distaff story existing in a world filled with men who happen to all be misogynistic pigs (except for one).

New York college student Shae (Danielle Panabaker) gets dumped by her mid-thirty-something boyfriend (Andrew Howard) who's separated from his wife and has a daughter. When Shae is found crying at work by a fellow bartender, Lu (Nicole LaLiberte), she's asked if it's a guy. Lu jokes, "You want me to kill him for you?" But she's not joking. Shae and Lu end up going to a club, go back to the apartment of three guys, and then when one of them walks Shae home, she is assaulted in the hallway of her apartment building. When the cops can't do anything, Lu encourages them to get their own justice. Cue these leggy, gun-wielding gals in short skirts and clickety-clacking heels dispatching any man that has wronged them and turning it into a blood sport. Lorena Bobbitt must be their role model.

Panabaker, with her demure disposition, and LaLiberte, with an edgy spark, balance each other out, but their quasi-amatory relationship would have been served in a more interesting film. Shae is sympathetic, but the Lu character is an enigma that should be committed. Even when she shares a painful memory to Shae, it's quickly revealed to be a lie. She rationalizes that "the only thing that keeps them from acting like pigs is that they're cowards and they're afraid of getting caught." However, they do have an amusing discussion about the nutrition in Cap'n Crunch cereal. Liam Aiken (yes, the little boy from "Stepmom") shares a few sweet scenes with Panabaker, only to fall to the obvious clutches of the script.

As far as compliments go, this is not repulsive and vile like 1978's "I Spit on Your Grave" and its 2010 remake. The violence is surprisingly not gratuitous (gore fans can turn away now), as the rape scene that snowballs everything into a kill spree goes out of focus and the money shots mostly occur off-screen. Never has a leg amputation been so restrained. If there are any mildly tense set-pieces to remember, one has Lu tying up a cop, pretending to seduce him and then pulling his own gun on him, as well as the sexy psycho showing up to a Halloween party dressed as a geisha with a samurai sword. Despite good use of moody lighting and a few slow-motion flourishes (both involving the camera on Miss Panabaker's face), Chick doesn't really inject much style either.

One could probably read the film as a psychological character study, as if Lu is just a figment of Shae's imagination à la "Fight Club," or that it's another story inspired by Ambrose Bierce's short story "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge." Unfortunately, it turns out to be far too simplistic without much going on beneath the surface. The anti-"Thelma and Louise," "Girls Against Boys" isn't that shocking or as provocative as it thinks it is, nor can it fall back on being just a nasty-fun exploitation B-movie. We're just supposed to watch the "boys" get taken out one by one and to no end. It's just a deflating experience that adds up to plenty o' nuttin'.

Grade: C -

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