Film review: Bad Girls

Published: Tuesday, April 26 1994 12:00 a.m. MDT

The idea of doing a traditional Western with female leads is a good one, and the casting of Madeleine Stowe, Mary Stuart Masterson and Andie MacDowell is also appealing, if not necessarily inspired.

But add Drew Barrymore to the mix — she is so contemporary that she seems more like someone going to a costume ball in Malibu — and then stir in every Western cliche you can think of, without the benefit of wit or style, and you wind up with just another routine cowpoke yarn, with women firing six-guns instead of men.

"Bad Girls" may be worth a look if you're fans of the stars — but don't expect too much.

The story opens with the foursome working in a brothel in the small town of Echo City, Colo. Masterson, a young widow, is upstairs with an influential, prominent local citizen who demands a birthday kiss. But she has promised her dead husband she won't kiss any of her customers. And when he gets too rough, Stowe steps in and blows him away.

The next day, she is about to hang for that deed when her three friends ride to the rescue — and they're off to a life of crime.

Sitting around the campfire that night, they discover that Masterson has a Homesteader's Claim for some land in Oregon, and Stowe has $12,000 saved up, money she's been sending to a bank in Texas. So they head for Texas to get the money . . . but wouldn't you know it — Pinkerton detectives show up at precisely the wrong moment, as does the bank-robbing gang that Stowe once belonged to.

This sets off a series of predictable events that encompass just about every Western cliche you can think of — bank robberies, shootouts, horse chases, a runaway buggy, the ultimate showdown with the bad guys, etc.

But none of this gets a particularly clever twist, and there is no real wit or humor involved. In fact, each of the actresses is pretty much left to her own trademark devices — Stowe offers a lot of smoldering looks, Masterson looks frightened and meek, MacDowell is superficially sophisticated and flighty and Barrymore . . . well, she sneers a lot. (Maybe she thinks she's doing "Amy Fisher Goes West.")

But son-of-a-gun if they can't all aim perfectly when they pull out their handguns or rifles, and each gets to show her stuff. (Too bad some of this screen time wasn't devoted to more character development, instead.)

Some of this is just silly and exploitative — the latter best exemplified by Stowe rising nude from a river as she gets her gun to greet an intruder, or when Barrymore is taken hostage by the bad guys and forced to undress (though the nudity is veiled and fleeting). And in the film's opening sequence, as Stowe is rescued from the hangman's noose, is it necessary to have yet another preacher shown to be a sniveling, self-righteous hypocrite (or, for that matter, to show a closeup of a Bible being trampled by horses, an obvious symbol of the ladies' forced retreat from law and "decency")?

Ah, Hollywood.

"Bad Girls" is rated R for violence, profanity, vulgarity, sex and brief partial nudity.