The first time I watched Bitch Slap was with a couple of friends. The general concensus we formed at the time was that it wasn’t a very good film. This isn’t a hard conclusion to come to if one were to just hear about it as there’s precious little about it that indicates quality. Yet something kept bothering me about the movie. It’s not like it has any aspirations of greatness. It’s meant to be mindless fun, and that’s not something I have any problems with in general. So why didn’t I like it? Was it in fact intentionally “bad”? What is “bad” anyway? I made an offhand comment on Twitter the other day about how it’s the worst movie I’ve ever wanted to rewatch, and along came Travis McClain to argue that it actually was pretty good and I was just being a snob. A snob! Me! Crank is one of my favorite films, for God’s sake! Surely this couldn’t be the reason for me not liking Bitch Slap. So what was it then? One rewatch later, and I think I might be a step closer to the truth.
But one thing at a time. Let me first describe the premise. Three attractive women arrive by car to a remote trailer in the desert. There’s calm and intelligent Hel (Erin Cummings) who appears to be the leader of the trio. There’s tough ex-con Camero (America Olivo), the unhinged one who’s always a hair away from a violent outburst. And last but not least is ditzy stripper Trixie (Julia Voth), who’s strangely enough presented as being nigh-supernaturally beautiful, presumably because she has more make-up on than the other two equally pretty girls. Also: In the trunk of the car is a badly beat-up and tied-up gangster called Gage (Michael Hurst). Why these people have arrived at this location is gradually unravelled as the movie progresses, but it’s established early on that the women are looking for a treasure of some kind and that Gage might know where it is. The brunt of the movie takes place at this hideaway, with backstory being filled in through flashbacks.
Bitch Slap is essentially an homage to the exploitation flicks of the 60s and 70s, with hot chicks and violence on the menu at Casa del Gratuitousness. It’s the kind of film that makes Wild Things seem dignified. When the women exit the car at the start of the film, the camera immediately zooms in on their generous bosoms. When they get tired from digging around in the sand, they cool off by dumping buckets of water on each other in slow-motion. And the violence is certainly there too, including but not limited to a razor-yoyo-wielding Asian (played by Minae Noji), a ludicrously big gun and a couple of pretty spiffy cat-fights. It’s all very over-the-top of course, but never quite crossing over into full-on parody territory. The dialogue is a different matter though, and it’s my favorite aspect of the film by far. No movie can be all bad when it features gems of lines such as “Lube my boob, skank twat” and “Ram this in your clam bake, bitch cake”. The pièce de résistance is this gem, however: “I’m gonna booty-bang bitch slap your fucking ass until you’re just this side of salvage. Then I’m gonna ram-ride girly’s show tits asunder before I plow both of you bitches under!”. I couldn’t have said it better myself.
So there is stuff to enjoy about this film, and I did like it a bit better on this solitary second watch. I still hesitate to say that it accomplishes its goals fully, though. The chief problem is that despite throwing everything but the kitchen sink at us in terms of blood and titilation, it’s not consistently funny. The schtick grows old too fast, and the film has little to back it up with. At 106 minutes long, it drags. 20-30 minutes earlier would have been a better time to roll the credits. Another issue I have is that the film comes off as too polished. For a movie inspired by old exploitation films, Bitch Slap actually looks fairly good visually. Too glossy, if you will. Death Proof, while very far from perfect, did a better job in recreating the genre’s look in modern times. Bitch Slap has too many cool explosions and fancy effects going on. The blatant green-screen work in the flashback sequences, on the other hand, is just the kind of thing that feels right for the material even if the technology wasn’t quite there yet when the originals were being made.
The film isn’t actually bad. It’s lurid trash, of course, but it’s not bad. Bitch Slap is an almost decent action flick masquerading as a crappy b-movie in a tailor-made costume. The story itself isn’t anything special or captivating, but the almost Memento-ish structure of the flashbacks, where we step by step move back in time to find out how things got started, is solid. Not that I care about what’s going on (because the film lets us know early on that we’re not meant to), but I can appreciate the way it’s presented to me. It’s competently put together in terms of shot composition and editing and the like. Compare this to the mess that is Zombie Nation and you’ll see what I mean. Director/write/producer Rick Jacobson and his colleague Eric Gruendemann know what they’re doing. They’ve previously worked on TV series such as Xena: Warrior Princess and Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, and as a bonus the main players from those shows all pop up for cameos here: Lucy “Xena” Lawless, Renée “Gabrielle” O’Connor and Kevin “Hercules” Sorbo.
So, bottom-line: is the film worth watching or not? I’ve been hee-hawing back and forth on this all day. I will concede that I took the film a little too seriously on my first viewing, not fully embracing the silliness going on. I mean, everyone involved is in on the fun and nobody has any delusions about what they’re doing; the actors ham it up completely (Olivo and Hurst in particular both chew the scenery like there’s no tomorrow) and we jump from one ludicrous situation to another. There is not an iota of pretentiousness to be found anywhere. And while it’s true that the movie drags a bit here and there and runs too long, there is enough fun to be had up until that point that you’re not likely to be too bored. I’m feeling generous here and will give it a score of 3/5. It’s not “good”, but I can’t say I regret seeing it twice. That should count for something.