Saturday, August 08, 2009

"Vice Girls" review

Vice Girls (2000)

Lana Clarkson ... Jan Cooper
Liat Goodson ... Edith Block
Kimberley Roberts ... Mindy Turner (as Kimberly Roberts)
Bart Muller ... John Russo
Warren Draper ... Captain Chandler
Richard Gabai ... Quentin / Hilowitz
A. Michael Baldwin ... Tralaine
Caroline Keenan ... Polly
Ari Bass... Man at Party
David Gohman... Man At Party
Jim Wynorski... Man with Top Popper

There's a serial killer on the loose in Hollywood. He likes videotaping himself while he kills teenage runaways. This fiend must be caught. Lana Clarkson and two other babe detectives need to hit the sleazy streets to see what they can find out. Their investigation takes them deep into the sordid underbelly of L.A. And when I say sordid underbelly, I really mean cheap movie sets. The killer's trail leads them to a host of scummy characters. Could the fat pornographer be behind the killings? What about the conceited director? How about the Quentin Tarantino wannabe filmmaker? The Vice Girls are on the hunt.

"Vice Girls" is a typical B-thriller. Actually, it's little lighter than I was hoping. I was in the mood for a sordid "Charlie's Angels" rip-off. The DVD cover has one of the Vice Girls, (Liat Goodson), in a skin tight leather skirt. I was hoping to see more of her but was denied. In fact, only one of the Vice Girls gets naked. Lana Clarkson gets topless in a quick sex scene in the bathroom. The other Vice Girls don't join the party. How sad that Lana had to carry the nudity burden for her whole squad.

Unfortunately, "Vice Girls" is just not as much fun as it should be. Lana Clarkson does what she can but the other two Vice Girls are non-entities. There was one scene where the tech advisor hinted that she knew the other Vice Girl back in San Francisco. I thought this was leading to a lesbian scene but was denied. Instead, they started beating each other up in a rather inept fight scene. Another scene had two teenage runaways talking about their latest shoplifting adventure in a stationary store. One girl turns to the other and says something like, "You're my only friend". I thought this was also going to lead to a lesbian scene but was denied again. Maybe I think every scene is going to lead to a lesbian scene. But when you have a movie called "Vice Girls" with the tagline "They're no Angels!" it's not too unreasonable to think that the girls will get some vice in their life.

But "Vice Girls" has some fun scenes as they look for the mad killer. One scene has the girls going undercover in the pornographer's store so that they can check out the lecherous creeps. They decide that they need a secret way to film the weirdos so they devise a brilliant solution. One Vice Girl starts dancing with a camera inserted on the nipples of her bra. They know where the guys will be staring. This is solid police work. Unfortunately this also means they can't take their camera bra off as they don't want pictures of the floor. I felt as let down as the wackos. We both felt swindled.

So where is the vice in "Vice Girls"? It's hard to find. Only Lana Clarkson knew what she was doing in this movie. She drags a guy into the bathroom to have sex. Twice! Thank you Lana for saving "Vice Girls". Lana gets topless and the movie is better for it. At least hard drinking, amazon woman Clarkson indulged in some much needed vice.

SCORE: 2 out of 4 vice girls

Side note: I was looking for a hot picture of Lana Clarkson to post but went with some real Vice Girls instead. If you do a Google search on Lana Clarkson you'll actually end up with more pictures of Phil Spector than Lana. Well, seeing Spector and his many fake wigs drained me of my Lana desire. RIP Lana.


Michael Whiteacre said...

OK, now I've done it -- mentioning this movie to you, I suppose, made you feel compelled to sit through it.

A couple of things worth mentioning: Michael Baldwin is the actor who played the kid in the Phantasm movies (well, all but one of them). He wrote the script and is primarily responsible for the lack of exploitation elements which you hold so dear. I don't mean to sleight him, for this was a movie that was done as a negative pick-up, if memory serves, and was basically green-lit and pre-sold based on the title and "three sexy cops" concept alone. Well, Busty Cops, it ain't. But then again, my Call Girl Wives is hardly Belle Du Jour! Michael wasn't asked to "sex it up," to the best of my recollection, so he didn't.

The bra camera you mentioned was designed by the same fellow who did the mechanical effects for the Phantasm movies.

You also mentioned Liat Goodson's pic on the front cover. That IS NOT Liat. She had gone AWOL by the time New Horizons got around to shooting key art for the DVD release. I was totally infatuated with Liat during the shoot. Like Julie K. Smith on Midnight Tease 2, one of my jobs was to drive her to and from set. She was gorgeous, with an amazing body and a wonderful accent (British or British-ish). My wife shrugged and shook her head after meeting her, and told me, "You men! You think that just because they have a nice accent that they're not whores." My dear wife didn't mean that literally regarding Liat, she was just remarking that men are suckers.

I think this was also a ten day shot, and I drove Lana Clarkson to and from set on several occasions, and would run into her time and again over the years. She was a pro, and worked very hard to raise the level of the material, but she was also not all that pleased to be there. She was glad to be working, and everyone treated her as well as I've ever seen on a low-budget show, but she wanted to be doing bigger and better things. On the drive to the Chatsworth location on day one (I drive her, Liat and the director), Lana remarked how lucky we were to be getting her for so much less than her "rate," whatever that might have been. Actors need to pump themselves up in various ways, and I think this might have been Lana's way of doing that while also drawing a line for others vis-a-vis how she expected to be treated.

My favorite recollections about the movie center around my late friend Gary Graver, the cinematographer. He really went out of his way to teach me so much about lenses and camera moves, plus he had great stories about everyone dating back to his Al Adamson days in the 1960s.

Dr. Gore said...

You did inspire me to find "Vice Girls" as you had mentioned it to me. But I had always wanted to check out a Lana Clarkson flick anyway so it all worked out. This was actually the first Clarkson flick I've seen. After her unfortunate demise at the hands of Spector, I was shocked that I hadn't seen "Barbarian Queen" or anything else Lana related.

I wasn't expecting "Vice Girls" to be "Busty Cops" but I was expecting a little more vice for my buck. I had envisioned a "Midnight Tease" type flick. "Vice Girls" is pretty tame. It needed to be sexed up. The best example of it would be to get Liat Goodson out of her police uniform.

Speaking of Liat Goodson and her police uniform, D'oh! New Horizons marketing has tricked me again. It wasn't the first time and it won't be the last. I saw that S&M black skirt on the cover and was ready for the girls to find some vice. You know who Liat reminds me of? Asia Carrera. Not having Liat Goodson rip off her camera bra was a real loss for the movie. And myself.

Michael Whiteacre said...

There was a lot of drama during production of some sort, but I was insulated from a lot of it. I think that the script was just not quite as ready as they would have liked when we had to shoot, and I think that Richard perhaps hadn't really committed to how he wanted to shoot it: with a sly comic touch or as an action-mystery. He would have been adept at either, but it lacks the wackiness and wit of his comedies, and isn't really paced like a compelling mystery. There are any real red herrings, except the ones we're TOLD about. We don't actually SEE them act suspiciously. Then they turn up dead, so we realize it wasn't them doing the killings. He got a lot shot, and had some great folks like Hoke Howell in it, but it's only when those guys turn up that you really care about the movie.

The party scene where we meet Michael Baldwin was shot at an often-used mansion in Hancock Park, and I don't think any of it really works. A girl drops her top for no reason, Wynorski is there for no reason, and I don't think that Michael Baldwin, who is a good, experienced actor (and a remarkable whistler), turns in a credible performance. My guess is that he was acting in the movie HE thought it should have been, and everybody else was looking to Gabai. Gabai and Baldwin were old friends since childhood. I think the compromise they struck ultimately made the movie neither fish nor fowl.

On the plus side, it does have a number of cute girls in it. Heidi Marnhout had one of her first roles here. I think she was referred by Kerry Prior, who did the mechanical bra effect. She did a Phantasm movie shortly afterward, and later ended up appearing quite memorably in Don Coscarelli's "Bubba Ho-tep." The problem for exploitation movie lovers is that they hired a couple of lead girls who wouldn't do nudity. Plus, since the movie dealt with sleazy, nude, on-camera killings, they might have been in a box when it came to wringing as much on-camera nudity out of the story for "entertainment" purposes.

My clearest recollection is having to wait in a Hollywood alleyway with most of the crew while Gabai shot the finale (and perhaps the Madelyn Night killing as well) because the location was so cramped and hot, and the grips and I killed time by singing Elvis Costello's "Man Out Of Time" over and over.

Dr. Gore said...

I don't understand how there could be any confusion about what kind of movie they should be making. This is what I don't get about the B-movie world. If you're making a movie called "Vice Girls", just jump right into the deep end. Don't try to be an A-movie. Be a B. In fact, be all the B you can be. Don't be ashamed about it. Don't whine about it. Just go for it. How about a scene where the Vice Girls go undercover in a woman's prison and jump some girls in the shower to get information? You have 90 minutes to do something interesting. Why waste time on scenes like two runaways talking about stealing stationary when they could be having a wholesome lesbian love scene? These are the things I think about.

The real question is this: Who do they think is watching these movies? It's not "Charlies Angels" fans. It's guys like me looking for some cheap thrills. Once you sign up for "Vice Girls", you've got to commit to the demands of the genre. Even though Lana may have thought she was above it, she was still fun to watch in the movie. At least she knew what kind of movie it was. I'm talking about Goodson and the other Vice Girl. They should not have been in this movie. As pretty as they may be, their hearts were not in it. The filmmakers should have known that and hired some real Vice Girls. You know the ones I'm talking about. Detectives Julie Smith and Nikki Fritz please report for duty.

Oh, and I've never heard that Elvis Costello song. I just listened to a sample of it off of the internet. I now have a vision of you sitting with a bunch of grips singing in a dirty Hollywood alley. Good times.

Michael Whiteacre said...

Maybe this will help fill in the gaps. Jim Wynorski and Andrew Stevens had set up a company called "Sunset Films." Its offices were on Sunset Blvd. (just East of Sweetzer, and across from a strip club). Thus the company name. Stevens later had a company called Royal Oaks Ent., which was a variation on the name of the street where he lived. These facts are testament to the creativity of Andrew Stevens.

Sunset Films' office was a couple of doors west of Cinetel Films, run by Paul Hertzberg. Hertzberg had an interest in the Sunset Films (I think he/Cinetel were financing/doing the negative pick-ups or whatever), and later, when Stevens left, I think Paul bought out his interest, and later on, probably Jim's as well, although I can't say for sure. Jim had started his career with Roger Corman's Concorde/New Horizons, so he had that relationship working as well.

There are trade shows for the movie industry in Cannes, Milan (MIFED) and Santa Monica (American Film Market) each year. They are the anti-Sundance, if you will.

I remember well shooting MIFED product reels for Sunset Films one year. On one overcast weekend afternoon we shot reels for 3 movies in the Cinetel parking lot (behind the building). Kimberly Roberts and Frederick Viale (both in "Vice Girls" - they were actually housemates) were in them, as were Stacie Randall and Leo Rossi. They had borrowed an old camera, and hired the wonderful sound recordist Lee Alexander. There was no boom operator. No gaffer. No grips. There was one light. I worked the boom, worked the sound mixer for some takes, gaffed, ran the camera for some shots, provided the guns, and appeared in one of them (the reel for "Demolition High"), although my performance did not make the final cut. I was paid $100 for the day, and my official title was "production Assistant." I can't even remember who directed them. It might have been Richard Styles, although a lot of people, including the fellow who brought the camera, staged the shots. I staged one. The footage was later cut together with shots taken from Cinetel and Concorde movies -- car crashes, building and helicopter explosions (i.e., the expensive shots) and shown at MIFED to represent Sunset Films' "production slate." It was a way of saying, "Hey, we're in business. Please pre-buy some product." Only one of the movies, "Demolition High," was ever made (later on, by Wynorski), and it in no way resembled that original product reel.

It was in this way that movies like "Vice Girls" got made. It was product in the pipeline, that's all. And when you're running a fly-by-night off-shoot production company, you take the money and run. By the time the movies "Vce Girls" and "Midnight Tease 2" were made, deals were already in place which made them profitable. Each of those films had private independent investors locally, as well, Those guys got producer and executive producer credits, would show up each day, eat bagels and ogle the girls. They had money to invest, wanted to be in the movie business, and Sunset Films provided them the opportunity. Sunset Films' principals were on salary from the company; they had no risk -- unless, of course the movies didn't get made. Then there'd be hell to pay. So, "Vice Girls" got made, the investors ate bagels and bragged at Hollywood parties, and the crew sang "Man Out Of Time."

Post Script: Andrew Stevens, who always had a knack for getting out of deals before they soured, later got into business with Elie Samaha, then wisely abandoned ship, and we all know how that ended up.

Dr. Gore said...

Are you suggesting that there wasn't a lot of love and care put into the making of "Vice Girls"? So not only should B-movie filmmakers not be surprised when they receive bad reviews, they should actually be expecting them.

I can understand the B-movie business model. Fast, cheap and out of control. I'm sure corners are cut with great abandon. Bagels are consumed with extra cream cheese and the girls are drooled over every day. But if the makers of "Vice Girls" are in the hit and run business, then I have no sympathy for them. If their mission in life is to dupe movie fans into renting their three day wonders, then they get what they deserve. What they deserve is to get their movie bashed with even greater abandon.

It's not asking too much for filmmakers to at least pretend to care. I've seen more than my share of B-movies and I've enjoyed quite a bit of them. But then there are the ones that stink up your DVD player with their foul stench. You can actually hear the filmmakers laughing at you for renting their junk. These jokers need their movies bashed with hammers so no one should have to suffer through them.

Not saying "Vice Girls" was that bad mind you. But your story of it being pre-sold as "Three sexy cops" makes sense. It would have worked too. They just weren't sexy enough.

Michael Whiteacre said...

You've got the picture. In part it's the difference between "art" and "product," but at a more basic level, it's simply about money. Wynorski has said, on camera, that he got into the movie business for two reasons: cash and babes. For that matter, Bruce Springsteen has admitted that he wanted to succeed in the music business to get out of his lower-middle class existence and to have better and more frequent sex. The only real difference is what you're willing to do to succeed, and how much talent you have.

Artists, I believe, create the things that they want to create, and the audience finds them. Now, there are obviously established genres which provide avenues, or vineyards in which to toil, but I think that the theory is basically true. What the businessmen involved in industries that profit from art need to do is go find people with that artistic drive, and channel it or manipulate it, or simply utilize it, for their own ends -- for profit. That's the model.

So, you need a more precise definition of "filmmaker" for your previous comment to hold water. The businessmen here don't give a shit about your reviews. I personally heard Roger Corman, whom I respect, and from whom I learned a lot because he was gracious enough to share so much insight and great advice with me, "The reviews come out after the movie's already been released or sold." As I've commented elsewhere, film finance is the banking business, and/or the get-rich-quick investment business.

So who's the filmmaker? Here, Michael Baldwin was presented with an opportunity to tell a story, given some guidelines, and offered the rare chance to have his work realized as a movie. He wrote his story, with notes from Mr. Gabai, no doubt, and was paid. How many guys are out there with unproduced screenplays right now? Had there been more time to work on the script, and had there been less of a "mixed talent pool" of actors and had there been more money for production, yada yada yada, who knows what the movie could have been? Or maybe they should have hired a different screenwriter? I don't know, no one knows. The fact is, no one cared one way or the other. The producers needed a feature-length screenplay that was shootable in ten days, that was called "Vice Girls," and featured three sexy vice cops. And they needed a director who could manage that schedule and get everything they needed shot within that schedule. You'll note that Jim Wynorski didn't offer his services as director, nor did he hire one of the writers that he and Hertzberg and Fred Ray were using at the time. The producers had no personal attachment to it. Just like with those MIFED product reels -- that's why I brought them up.

Filmmakers of any variety don't have the right to expect ANY kind of review. They put it out there and then their work is done (aside from promotion). Some directors and writers, though, are very touchy about reviews. But those guys feel a personal attachment to the work. I read my reviews. I don't know that a review has ever made me change anything about the way I do things. The positive ones have certainly encouraged me, and I don't take the negative bits personally. I'm no better or worse than any of the characters I've mentioned. I've just been very, very lucky. I make the movie I want to make, and usually I'm in charge of how it's presented to buyers. But, to be perfectly honest, I don't have a drawer full of socially-conscious scripts that I hope to someday raise the financing to make. I just want to make entertaining movies in genres for which I have some "feel," and I know that, because of the way I work, they'll all come out as personal expressions on some, or many, levels. Hopefully people people will see/buy/rent them, and hopefully reviewers will appreciate them. In that order.

Dr. Gore said...

Oh I have no illusions that the mercenaries who crank out these movies are swayed by anything a reviewer may say. A review of some of these movies just becomes a case of pointing out the obvious. Bad acting? Check. Makes no sense? Yeah. Nobody cared? As usual.

Roger Corman couldn't possibly last as long as he has if actually cared about little things like quality control. It's product off the conveyor belt that has to cost a nickel and make Corman a buck. My favorite Corman story is the "Fantastic Four" tale of greed. So some guy owned the rights to make a "Fantastic Four" movie. He had no intention of actually making the movie, he just wanted to turn around and sell the rights to someone else. Well, his rights were about to expire and revert back to Marvel unless he filmed something in six months. The guy calls Corman. I need a "Fantastic Four" movie he says. No problem for Corman. They crank out one in seconds, never intending for anyone to see it. That "movie" is one of those pirated DVD copies you see at every fan convention. It all worked out for everyone involved as the guy eventually sold the rights to Fox and we've since been blessed with two Jessica Alba mediocrities. Not sure what Corman's profit was on the whole convoluted deal but I'm sure he did OK.

Well, that's the B-movie business to me. Movies be damned, let's make some money. I'm sure if Corman could get away with filming a brick wall and calling it a movie he would do it. It's not about making a movie, it's about selling it. There's no document more deceitful in the world than the description on the back of a DVD box. That movie description will promise you the world. Sex! Action! Hot Babes! Rent it! It will lie to your face and there's nothing you can do about it. I'm sure Corman gets a kick out of ripping off the suckers. Even Fred Olen Ray has been quoted as describing himself as a carnie. You know what carnies do? Steal from the rubes.

But then again, if we know all of this to be true, why do we keep watching these movies? In my mind, it's kind of like going to Vegas. You know you're likely to lose, but what if you win? What if you hit the jackpot? When I saw Julie Smith do her thing in "Lust Connection" I was hooked. I had hit the B-movie babe jackpot. No matter what other movie sins Wynorski has committed, (and he has sinned plenty), at least he gave us plenty of Julie Smith showcases. Fred Ray gave us "Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers" and Corman has cranked out a few enjoyable flicks. When you're an exploitation fan, sometimes you have to suffer for your love. I just wish these guys didn't have the act of seperating me from my money down to such a precise science.

Anonymous said...

FYI Shot in 9 days - Leads cast by wynorski and hertzberg other than Caroline Keenan and Heidi cast by yours truly. Carey prior met Heidi M on the movie - Carey came through Baldwin. No nudity from the other "vice" girls per the producers casting. FYI when I met the real Quentin T at Boardeners after my Popstar premiere he ID'd me called me over and told me how much he liked Vice Girls - bought me a beer - mission accomplished...

Michael Whiteacre said...

To the anonymous Mr. Gabai -- you shot the hell out of this movie, and you certainly got more out of the script and cast than anyone else I know could have on that schedule, and with those producers.

I'm sure you still remember that drive to Chatsworth on Day 1, with Lana, Liat and those damn dying kittens of Liat's in the backseat of Mr. L. Klein's automobile.

Or perhaps we should remember it best as the movie that led to the GREAT Uncle Daddy song, "Ron Said".

Anonymous said...