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'Coyote Ugly': Belly Up On the Bar

By Stephen Hunter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 4, 2000


    'Coyote Ugly'
Clockwise from top left: Tyra Banks, Maria Bello, Bridget Moynahan, Izabella Miko and Piper Perabo.
(Touchstone Pictures)
I liked "Coyote Ugly" better when it was called "Flashdance," although I didn't like it very much then. But that one had a beat; you could wiggle one finger to it. This one just lies there and does the hokey-pokey, except when it gets up on the stage--bar, in this case--and does the hootchy-kootchy.

It clings almost to the exact particulars, if slightly rearranged. A simpering love story alternates with highly eroticized professional dance routines, which are ascribed to amateurs in a colorful working-class bar. A misunderstood child-woman aspires to professional gratification while shakin' her booty to the beat, beat, beat of a jungle jukebox, and also finding chaste love. Water is poured on women. They pretend to like it. The music is explosively banal.

The Jennifer Beals variant at least had Jennifer Beals. "Coyote Ugly," produced by the surviving half of the Bruckheimer-Simpson team (Bruckheimer), which produced "Flashdance," is stuck with a poor young woman named Piper Perabo, who resembles and sounds (adenoidally) like Rosanna Arquette while simultaneously making Arquette look like Meryl Streep. Quite an accomplishment.

When discovered, Perabo's Violet is serving beers and slices in a Jersey pizzeria 40 miles down the Garden State Parkway. But she's Gotham-bound, to pursue a naive dream as a songwriter. Her issue: She doesn't dare sing the songs she writes because a) they suck or b) she's stage-shy. Obviously, the answer is both, not that the movie knows or cares.

In New York, she rents a dive in Chinatown and makes the rounds of the record producers, where she's treated like scum. Depressed and almost out of money, she runs across three sassy girls--Tyra Banks, Izabella Miko and Bridget Moynahan--who have the pizazz and attitude she likes. She learns they're bartenders at a place called Coyote Ugly (don't ask why; not worth telling), a hot hip joint in the meatpacking district where the shots are honest and the girls are tough.

The owner Lil (Maria Bello) takes a shine to Violet on the basis of T and A, and hires her on the spot. Rechristened "Jersey," Violet soon finds herself in a maelstrom--or should that be male storm?--of seething, sweating, swilling, screaming gropers, expected to join her beautiful colleagues on the bar where they strut like Texas line dancers on methamphetamine.

Immediately you can see the two pop-cult subthemes. First is that old standby, the rookie ordeal. (Shrinking) Violet, shy and unassertive, is immediately dissed by some of the other girls and must endure the hazing as she struggles to fit in. But she's plucky; she's spunky; she's a spitfire and a hellion, a zinger and plugger. We know she'll prevail and there'll be some sentimental consecration of the moment of acceptance.

The other subtheme is directly subversive of that parable of feminine empowerment--it is her titillating sexualization. First off, she's what we guys call "cute," meaning extremely attractive but utterly without sexuality. But we know, having witnessed this theme in popular culture a jillion jiggly times, that the movie is going to sex her up as it runs its course, strip her of that innocence and get her up on the bar to thrust and pump with the rest.

I will admit a certain guylike response to this universal chord, known otherwise as misogyny, objectification, degradation and soft porn. It worked for me; or should I say, it worked on me.

But almost nothing else did. The dreary puppy-love affair she conducts with this week's adorable Aussie (Adam Garcia) made me want to barf, as did the kute konversation between them. A subplot involving her judgmental father (John Goodman) back in Jersey yields little, save a fabulous moment at the end where Goodman, who appears to have lost a little weight (he's probably under 600 now), climbs on the bar and moves and grooves with the Coyote chicks. He dances much better than the poor child cast as his daughter, who never really appears comfortable when she's asked to move to the music.

The rest is loud bad music and cut-aways to the bodies of the pros who do the real dancing interspersed with close-ups of the models pretending to dance. To sum up, I'll quote from the brilliant Internet critic Hotgurl, of Dallas: "Jerry Bruckheimer has done it again!"

Yes, Hotgurl, he sure has.

COYOTE UGLY (PG-13, 94 minutes) – sexual situations and suggestive dance.


© Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company

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