Trading in Bruckheimer's muscle-addled morons for a much curvier set of lead characters, Coyote Ugly had a lot of camp promise--compared to exploitative men movies, exploitative chick flicks always seem to take themselves a lot more seriously, thereby resulting in a much higher quotient of irresistible vulgarity--in short, the immensely pleasurable "Showgirls effect".
And, good God, the planets were definitely aligned for a great time here--disconcertingly cute struggling-songwriter (is there any other kind?) Violet is leaving her tiny New Jersey town for New York City. Saying goodbye to her gruff, disapproving dad (John Goodman), Violet moves into Cheap, Two-Bit, Rat-Infested Heights, located somewhere smack in the middle of the Village. Once she settles in, our budding Tori Amos has a rough time of it, and one night, while spending her last $2 on a slice of pie at a diner, she spies three ludicrously hot women hanging out together, whooping it up, being generally "outrageous," and saying "girl" a lot. For obvious reasons, Violet is utterly mesmerized by this display and rushes out to get a job at their bar, which is called Coyote Ugly.
Basically, the deal with Coyote Ugly is this: Five preposterously erotic ladies wearing skimpy rubber thongs pour shots for a capacity crowd, writhe seductively on the bar, drench each other with water, get down on all fours, slap each others' asses and scream vulgarities through bullhorns. These lively little sequences are the meat of the movie, although glued between them are a few scenes of Violet's emerging relationship with some Australian guy and her eventual debut as a singer-songwriter. (Oh, did I ruin it? Aw, damn.)
Despite a fourth-quarter attempt to lay judgment upon the strip-tease shenanigans of the Coyote girls, Coyote Ugly obviously loves its skin, as well it should--it's the film's best (and only) asset. By packaging the flesh tightly enough and jiggling it with enough overplayed melodrama, Coyote Ugly could've reached almost Valley of the Dolls proportions. But it doesn't.
The first clue that things are awry is the PG-13 rating. That's right. No nudity. A film like this with no nudity is like Friday the 13th with no Jason. Not that either of them are necessarily good films, but those who pay the price of admission to Friday the 13th aren't there to see tender emoting. They're there to watch Jason chop off some guy's head with a push lawnmower. The second clue comes when Violet says, "This reminds me of the first time I heard 'Bridge Over Troubled Water'", and then adds, "by Simon and Garfunkel." Those four words make it excruciatingly clear what age-demographic Coyote Ugly is trying to nail down here, which in turn illustrates just how narrow of a niche Bruckheimer's aiming for--quite simply, a gonzo opening weekend rather than a potential cult classic. The film has nothing in the way of lofty goals, and without lofty goals, there is no camp.
What we're left with is a fish-out-of-water drama to be taken at face value: about $6.25 in my estimation, which, depending on where you live and if you want any popcorn, may or may not cover the price of admission. Now subtract the $5 worth of in-your-face booty, and you're left with a $1.25 series of highly uninvolving dramatics: (1) Violet's music, which is neither good nor unique, yet is supposed to herald some great new, uh, talent in songwriting. We're left on (sigh) "the edge of our seat" with such thrilling questions as "Will Violet conquer her stage fright?" "Will her songs ever get radio play?" "Could this character get any lamer?" (2) Romance with the Australian guy, a doughy-faced dude about as exciting as a wet paper bag and with approximately the same vocal delivery. (Note to filmmakers: Avoid putting life-sized cardboard cutouts of Patrick Swayze and Bette Midler in the background of your tender lovemaking scene, particularly if they have more stage presence than your leads.) (3) The disapproving dad subplot, which functions OK here, but is never as enjoyable as the other standby alternative, the plucky-kid-brother-in-a-wheelchair.
But to be too hard on a film like Coyote Ugly is to pretend that you're above it, and that's just plain wrong, for Coyote Ugly belongs to a long line of enjoyably bad cinema, like Justine Bateman's Satisfaction (1988), Matt Dillion's Wild Things (1998), and a whole slew of below-par John Hughes movies from the 1980s, movies you wouldn't be caught dead "discussing" but that you could actually "chat" about for an hour while reclining on your sofa, watching it on the USA Network.
And fortunately, the antics at Coyote Ugly do reach an occasional level of silly absurdity that's enjoyable to witness: Rachel (the token bitch) cutting off some guy's ponytail; Cammie (the token slut) lighting the bar on fire, then dancing on the flames; or Zoe (the token gal-who's-just-doing-this-to-pay-for-law-school) leaping off the bar and body surfing into the crowd. I mean, it's hard to hate a movie where "Pour Some Sugar On Me" isn't played with a wink-nudge; instead, it's just supposed to rock, and does so, almost disturbingly well.
Coyote Ugly is a lot like that Def Leppard song--it rocks as long as there's enough eye candy to distract you, and you don't think about it too much. Sure, it's a shame Bruckheimer was afraid to get his groove on with a little more audacity, but Coyote Ugly isn't a total waste of time for those unafraid to indulge in bad taste. Contrary to popular belief, partaking in a cup of crap cinema is not really bad for you--go ahead, swish it around, enjoy the flavor. Just don't swallow.