Weekly Wire
NewCityNet Mutiple Personality Disarray

By Ray Pride

AUGUST 7, 2000:  If bad movies can teach you as much as great ones, I'd like to bring "Coyote Ugly" 101 to order.

Movies that are corporate constructions, designed to eke the most generosity from a recruited crowd of mall teenagers, require different diagnoses than human failings, and I'd have to say "Coyote Ugly" suffers multiple personality disarray. How many second thoughts after how many previews did it take to make this many different short films with radically different tones-alternately annoying and charming-within one ninety-four-minute span?

I actually kind of like this PG-13, T&A comedy-weepie about family pride and shame. (I admit I didn't pay to see it except with a couple hours of a sunny Monday afternoon.) It's a breezy shambles, a constipated construction with moments of sheerest calculation and sudden bright shining moments that are genuinely endearing. This Jerry Bruckheimer continuity-bad-bad production is truly odd: to start with, it's made by Disney, which now admits, I suppose that Minnie Mouse has a navel ring. Screenwriter-cynic Paul Schrader once quoted a note about a bad 1970s romantic comedy, as charted in the diary of George Wallace's attempted assassin Arthur Bremer: He found it to be like a plastic flower in a pile of dogshit.

I will not go quite that far. The nasal-voiced Piper Perabo, of the Julia Roberts big-mouth bronco smile, plays Violet, a wannabe songwriter who leaves grumbly dad John Goodman behind in New Jersey and moves to mad, manic Manhattan. It is not set in any recognizable world, or moon of any recognizable planet, either in their hometown of South Amboy, N.J., or forty miles away in the 1970s-style Manhattan Chinatown she slides into. Before she leaves Jersey, there are two shots of Goodman on his porch in succession, each dominated more by the American flag than by his girth. (That's artful camera placement.) There's a little salt and spice for every potential member of the audience, buttons lightly fingered, then intermittently dandled throughout.

"Coyote Ugly"'s New York is an amusement-park style, Playboy magazine-Miller Lite world. Wouldn't you like to live in the haze and daze of a television commercial, iconified, gazed upon, shorthanded into unceasing bliss?

Perabo, a complete naif, has no luck getting cassettes of her songs heard. She quickly winds up behind the bar at Coyote Ugly, an amplified version of an actual establishment, where women half-remember "Flashdance" while pouring tequila shooters to losers of every possible demographic. Halfway through the awfulness, comic dialogue, reportedly written by Kevin Smith, kicks in, and a romance with a boyish, but studly, hairless-chested Aussie orphan-overachiever (Adam Garcia) blossoms.

Perabo's eyes are cartoonishly dead in the early going. But once the kicky dialogue begins and the romance is in bloom--reportedly, and quite believably, attributed to Kevin Smith--she seems to be having fun. C'mon, could you deliver the line, "I don't care if they pay in lobster, I'm not sticking my hand in that fishy bin?"

Top-of-the-line eyes help debut-from-commercials director David McNally, including DP Amir Mokri, whose work on "Slamdance" was one of the slickest aggregations of L.A. scurviness ever. Production designer Jon Hutman ("Little Man Tate") fills the frames with consequential, if often inane, bric-a-brac. But even at the moments that are somehow salvaged from inanity, the brain recognizes this is utterly synthetic stuff. "Cocktail Ugly"? "A Piece of My Flashdance"? There's mutagenic DNA sloshed all over this thing.

What moral to take from this glittery widescreen snack food for the prehensile libido? Oh to be a 23-year-old woman with such a firm and smooth body who needs only to iron out some kinks and figure out some knacks and turn the boyish man's world on its ear--to be a Powerfluffer Girl!

Women must succeed by brains, yes, but more by looks, more by sex, by flash, by impulse, and most importantly, by writer-producer-preview diktat. In the end, "Coyote Ugly" is a little above a made-for-Playboy channel epic, a little less than Zalman King mood smut.

A few more highlights? You will get a brief moment of Bud Cort, nearing his 60s, as a grill man, belly-dancing, and you will get a bit of male-stripper breakdancing. Oh, and the most scandalous? A photographer in the bar, flashing photos of the girls, who explains, "Hey, we're from the Voice!" Who is this artist, this Weegee of nighttown Manhattan? Michael Bay.

"Armageddon" or splendid crap. I prefer the latter.


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