If the story line of Brawling Bag Ladies seems familiar, that's because it is. Maybe the producers of this direct-to-video enterprise thought they could pull a fast one on a small-time film critic from Ohio, but they were way wrong. You see, I consider myself somewhat of an expert on homeless-fighting-homeless videos. It's not a passion, really . . . let's just say it's a preoccupation. And there's a lot in Brawling Bag Ladies that this aficionado has seen before. Take, for instance, the scene where three bums are given a stun gun and rewards are given out to the one who can zap their testicles the longest.
I think we saw that scene in a far superior film called Bumfights not too long ago, and it was far more electrifying (pun intended!) in the original.
Bumfights came crashing onto the independent scene two years ago. Auteurs Ray Leticia and Ty Beeson captured the crazy antics of Las Vegas transients for their film, and for first-time directors, the results were impressive. The way they chronicled filthy bums going at fisticuffs for money was both charming and surprisingly amusing.
The producers of Bag Ladies (including Cleveland native Shane Pierce) claim that it took them two years and countless hours to document the homeless no-holds-barred fighting you see in their picture. Puh-lease. The care with which this was filmed suggests a tight budget and an even tighter schedule. The style can best be described as Blair Witch meets John Waters. It's obvious that Pierce is only interested in riding the coattails of Bumfights.
See, what made Bumfights so good was that it made slam-dunks with good material. In that film, everyone passes, and no one dances in the end zone, and -- oh forget it, I don't know enough about sports to continue this analogy.
The similarities between Bumfights and Bag Ladies are striking. Not in the way Escape From the Bronx resembled Escape From New York, but in the shameless vein of Gus Van Sant's shot-for-shot remake of Psycho. Clearly, it's a no-talent film-school dropout's attempt to duplicate the artistry of an original work.
Shooting potatoes at homeless people? Seen it!
Paying one bum to set another bum on fire? Old news!
Self-inflicted hooker piercings? C'mon!
We'll take awful remakes for $500, Alex!
The only hint of promise comes about halfway through, when the filmmakers attack a homeless man in the desert and tie firecrackers around his neck. Yes. Okay. That one is admittedly fresh.
But this suggestion of talent can't hide the fact that Bag Ladies is just a rehashing of themes we've seen before.
Even kids in the hallways of Shaker Heights High School know Bumfights well enough to recite dialogue and key scenes. Julie Swift, 17, a junior, first saw the movie at a friend's house, but now her sister owns it. All the better for practicing her favorite quote: "I'm going to duct-tape this bum to a tree!"
Eleven-year-old Dan Lucas, a sixth-grader, has seen it "over 15 times, or even 20 times," at home. He's partial to the scene where the filmmakers tattoo a bum's forehead.
The performances from the transients are also underwhelming. The cast of bums includes Big Head Todd, who comes across as barely adequate, while the rantings of Marya and Spanky are just plain embarrassing. Their consciousness of the camera breaks the "fourth wall" in a way that is not only jarring to the viewer, but is also disturbing. If I wanted to look bums in the eye, I'd shop at Tower City!
Pierce never allows them the dignity of a history to help us understand their present dirty existence. What were the struggles that brought these bag ladies to the streets of Las Vegas? What makes them want to brawl? I've seen better writing in a Connie Schultz article!
Now, as Batman said: to the ending!
The producers' inexperience is also apparent in the film's rushed conclusion. Without ruining the finale for those who may want to buy it online, let me just say this: There isn't one. It's just one fight after another, some boobs scattered throughout, and then boom! Credits. It's over.
Pick up a high school freshman's English textbook sometime, Shane. Look up story resolution. I know it's a lot to ask for a short denouement where we advance something about the human condition, but a simple climax to a 60-minute production wouldn't be demanding too much.
Here's a modest proposal. Let's start giving producers awards for not embarrassing themselves, or us, in lame remakes such as Bag Ladies.
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