WOMEN muscle in on the men's world of bodybuilding in the nonfiction feature "Pumping Iron II," the snazzy sequel in which some of the world's strongest female athletes throw their weights around.
The film follows four of the sport's stars, glorious and grotesque goddesses, as they pump and strut their stuff at the first Women's World Cup in Las Vegas last year. Dyanna Taylor's photography is unobtrusive, candid and as dazzling as Vegas' neon skyline. In one sequence, she traces the powerlines humming from nearby Hoover Dam where caryatids shoulder the boulders to the awesome women on the Caesar's Palace stage.
Carla Dunlap, Rachel McLish, Bev Francis and Lori Bowen seem not to notice the film crew as they strain to gain in pre-show practice. Some situations are obviously staged by George Butler, who created this and the original "Pumping Iron." Butler hoped to develop the dramatic values of a fictional film -- character development and story -- without using narration or interview. And he has gone a long way toward that end by working a muscle hustle: He went so far as to import Australian powerlifter Bev Francis, a 180-pound hulk, to stir up the status quo.
His focus is the growing controversy between the built-up Barbie types, like McLish and Bowen, and the bulkier, bodybuilders like the once-controversial Dunlap and the currently controversial Francis.
What should a woman look like? And who has the right to determine that? The contest judges, fusty and prim as any you'd expect to see referee a chess match, are the film's comic relief as they fuss over an official analysis of femininity. "I just want to say that women are women and men are men. And thank God for that difference," says the eldest, who later forgets the calculator and can't tally the final scores.
McLish, the born-again barbelle who invented the notion of flex appeal, tosses her mane of long hair and sulks and pouts her way through the film. She represents the majority view: "I've always considered myself a powder puff," she declares, "But I consider myself a real strong powder puff."
PUMPING IRON II (Unrated) -- At the Key.