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‘Thelma & Louise’ (R)By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
May 24, 1991
"Thelma & Louise" may look like just another girl-buddy road picture. But in director Ridley Scott's hands, it's propulsively more.
For one thing, the movie, starring Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis, doesn't barrel down a single-minded road. It changes lanes, rolling down a highway that's paved with stirring undertones about oppressed women.
Humor is mixed adroitly with existential ominousness; you don't have to be a mental pygmy to find things funny. Every character is lively -- even the people in the background. "Thelma" is unabashed, streamlined entertainment, and you won't hate yourself in the morning for liking it.
Coffee-shop waitress Sarandon is fed up with her boyfriend. Her friend Davis is an enslaved housewife. They decide to get out of town for a few days and forget their oppressive companions. On last-minute impulse, Davis borrows husband Christopher McDonald's gun. When they pull into an Arkansas bar, things start going wrong. Suddenly the friends are on the armed-and-dangerous lam.
They've left insensitive lovers behind them. An American heartland full of sexist truck drivers, shady wayfarers and suspicious policemen lies before them. They're fugitives in the male frontier. Apart from a little help from Sarandon's boyfriend Michael Madsen and sensitive detective Harvey Keitel, they're on their sisterly own.
Scott (with screenwriter Callie Khouri) keeps this lost weekend from hell varied, rich and character-driven. Danger's always lurking. Memorable personalities cross their path regularly. The movie's abundant with great music, from blues to reggae. Cinematographer Adrian Biddle renders motel rooms, bars and the Southwest in glowing, exquisite hues. And the earthy, girl-to-girl banter never stops.
"Every time we get in trouble," Sarandon tells the mousy Davis, "you go blank or plead insanity or some such [bleep]."
Davis, by the way, de-mouses fast. She soon learns to tote the gun she used to fear. At one point, when a cop pulls the women over, she's obliged to hold him up. The cop makes the usual whimperings about his wife and kids.
"You be sweet to them, especially your wife," says quavery, resolute Davis. "My husband wasn't sweet to me. Look how I turned out."
The sexual oppression is omnipresent. When Keitel asks a waitress about a male stud found dead in a parking lot, she replies, "Has anybody asked his wife? She's the one I hope did it."
You should also see what Sarandon and Davis do to the truck driver with the obscenely wiggling tongue.
Sarandon and Davis grip "Thelma's" wheel with engaging hands. Behind them, Keitel (apparently doomed to investigate crimes forever) is subtly affecting. As Davis's bewildered husband, McDonald is an amusing chauvinist dork. Brad Pitt is endearingly dopey as a laid-back hitchhiker with a taste for robbing convenience stores.
"Well, now," he drawls, "I've always believed that if done properly and all, robbery doesn't have to be a totally unpleasant experience."
He could have been talking about buddy movies.
Copyright The Washington Post