Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Gang of Roses (2003)

Directed by Jean Claude La Marre
Starring Stacey Dash, Lil' Kim, Maria Matiko, LisaRaye, Monica Calhoun
Rated R

"Don't make me split your wig."

This is the sort of movie where people blow smoke off their guns after they shoot somebody. If you have ever been to a Wild West stunt show, then you've seen this movie. Just trade the Disneyworld reject "enactors" for a bunch of hip hop divas, throw in a bunch of vague Christian platitudes, and you've got the positively inglorious Gang of Roses. Conceptually, it's a hysterical idea, and if it was written, directed, and/or acted with some modicum of tongue-in-cheek humor, it may very well have become a cult classic, ala the similarly themed Straight to Hell (1987). Alas, Joe Strummer does not show up to save the day here.

It begins in the peaceful town of Flat Ridge, a multi-racial neverland of law-abiding get along-ers. Things go sour when a crew of woman-eating outlaws - led by an eye-patched maniac named Left Eye (Bobby Brown) show up to loot, pillage, and do whatever else they want. In the melee, an innocent girl named Sally (Licea Shearer) is shot to death by evil gun-toting lesbian Little Suzie (Charity Hill). Word gets back to Sally's sister, Rachel (Monica Calhoun) that Sally's been killed. And that's when the trouble really starts.

The now peace-loving Rachel was once the leader of a bank robbing pussy posse. She had gone straight and disbanded this "Gang of Roses" long ago, but now? Now, she's got to get the fuckin' gang back together, man.

First though, we meet Chastity (Lil' Kim), the amorous one. Some guy bangs her and then tries to split with her dough, but she shoots him dead as he sneaks out the door.

And then an Asian bounty hunter named Zang Li (Maria Motiko)- wearing a leather hat and a belly shirt - shows up at bar. She takes a slug of whiskey and then shoots a bunch of wanted men dead.

And then Maria (LisaRaye, AKA Da Brat's big sister!), who dresses all in white, throws a knife at some dude. That's her thing, knives.

So, Rachel reassembles her posse, and tells them the terrible true tale of Flat Ridge, about how it was once a peaceful town of "Mostly women". Rachel lived there with her sister, until an endless wave of horny outlaws began showing up, lookin' for some of that hot Flat Ridge tail they'd been hearing so much about. Rachel vamoosed to a shack in the desert, but Sally stayed in town, and was eventually murdered by the gun-happy lesbo from the opening scene. She has asked her former posse to join her to seek vengeance.

Everybody's in, except for cranky knife-thrower Maria, who doesn't care about Sally or anybody else. But then Chastity encourages them all to "Chill out a minute" (cowboy talk!) so they can figure things out. Seems there's gold hidden in Flat Ridge somewhere, which piques Maria's interest. Plus, there's a few heads to be hunted, which ropes in Zing Li. And so, the posse rides again.

But wait, what about Kim?

That's right, there's another one. Kim (Stacey Dash) is currently getting hung in the town gallows for horse theft. So, she's pretty busy. After yelling at the judge about her vagina, they let her drop. Luckily, sharp shooter Mario Van Peebles (!) shows up at the last second to shoot the rope. Kim goes crashing to the ground just as the other girls show up to spray bullets everywhere and help her make a quick getaway.

They head to Flat Ridge to look for Left Eye. They know he's responsible for the murder and the gold, but they don't know what he looks like. They figure it'll be obvious, though. However, when they get to town and case the local tavern, there's a dozen guys wearing eyepatches. Doh!

The girls find the bad guys in the cemetery, digging up graves. They are looking for the map to the lost gold. The last guy who had it buried it somewhere. Meanwhile, Lil Kim is in a barn, boning some dude named Babyface (director La Marre) while a slow jam plays. At one point, she is hesitant to sleep with a man she just met, but then he gives her a piece of jewelry. That cements the deal. No nudity, by the way. A little side-boob, but it's covered up with the guy's face. And tongue.

Bobby Brown's gang find half the map, and then stick around town looking for the other half. The girls decide to wait them out, and once they find the other half and get the gold, they'll ambush them and kill them all and then take the loot. That's the idea. So, they have to lay low for a couple days. But then Maria beats one of the grave robbers in a game of poker, which results in a big gun battle between the girls and Left Eye's gang. At one point, a Mexican guy's hat gets shot right off his head. Hilarious!

No blood, by the way. No boobs, no blood. Wild West? More like Mild West, am I right?

After killing a couple bad guys, the girls hole up on their motel room and try to figure out what to do next. They figure out that Babyface is probably a spy for the gang, so they hide out in the desert. Kim decides to go back to town to grab a necklace (?), but gets shot by some mysterious woman-in-black who sounds suspiciously like loony R&B singer Macy Gray. Meanwhile, the girls snooze away by the campfire, and Lil' Kim dreams about when they were all bank robbers who wore purple silk scarves over their faces and said group prayers before they knocked a bank over.

And then Kim shows up on her horse, and then dies. And then everybody cries. You might too, since she's the only hot girl in the whole movie.

Just when you think this fiasco cannot get any lamer, they have an impromptu funeral for her where Rachel sings "Amazing Grace" and they flashback to an all-Kim montage, which is basically just close-ups of her face as she scowls.

So, of course, there's the big revenge finale. All the bad guys are conveniently holed up in a barn. Before the girls storm it, they have another prayer circle where they hug and stare meaningfully into each other's eyes. I never knew bank robbers were so Jesus-y.

So, will they find the gold? Will Rachel avenge her sister? Will somebody shoot off one of Lil' Kim's ridiculous boob implants? And what about the mysterious lady-in-black? Is Macy Gray going to sing a song, or what?

All these questions are answered in the underwhelming conclusion. You will not like the answers, but you will get them.

You will also get a cameo by Ted Lange, the bartender on the Love Boat. Guess what he plays? That's right, a bartender. Holy shit.

Retarded 'modern' westerns are nothing new. See Young Guns (1988), Banditas (2001), or Sukiyaki Wastern Django (2007) for three obvious examples. Still, Gang of Roses really takes the cake. The hair extensions, silicone, and urban vernacular would not even be an issue if they had played this for camp, but the actresses - a very loose term here - stubbornly refuse to accept that they're in the middle of a dumb goof. They play it all so earnestly that it sucks all the coulda-been yucks out of the proceedings. And so we are left with only the woeful set and costume design, bloodless gunplay, a witless story, numerous visible microphone battery pack shots, and Lil' Kim's space alien eyebrows to keep us from dying of boredom.

There is one bright spot: Bobby Brown is clearly blitzed on drugs the entire time, and that's always fun to watch. Otherwise, I can only recommend this to the staunchest badfilm fans, or Stacey Dash completists. Unfortunately, I fear I may be both. So I guess I deserved this.

Amazingly, Gang of Roses did not kill director LaMarre's career. He went on to develop two successful film series: Norah's Hair Salon, and Pastor Jones. They sound quite wholesome. I am not familiar with them, so I cannot say. The "Gang" are all doing fine. Stacey Dash was recently in Playboy, to celebrate her 40th birthday. It was awesome.

- Ken McIntyre

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