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Dustin Putman

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Coyote Ugly (2000)
2 Stars

Directed by David McNally
Cast: Piper Perabo, John Goodman, Adam Garcia, Maria Bello, Izabella Miko, Melanie Lynskey, Bridget Moynahan, Tyra Banks, Del Pentecost, Michael Weston, LeAnn Rimes.
2000 – 100 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for sensuality).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, August 4, 2000.

Producer Jerry Bruckheimer hit much success in 1984's box-office hit "Flashdance," and following a string of boring action pictures (1997's "Con Air," 1998's "Armageddon," 2000's "Gone in Sixty Seconds"), has returned to his roots to attempt a "Flashdance" redux with the aptly-titled "Coyote Ugly." A "struggling-songwriter-who-becomes-a-flashy-bartender" movie, the film is startlingly similar to 1988's "Cocktail," but with a sex change operation figuring into the Tom Cruise/Piper Perabo connection.

21-year-old New Jersey waitress Violet Sanford (Piper Perabo) has loved writing music for as long as she can remember, and it has always been her dream to travel the 42 miles into New York City and attempt to make her dreams come true. She can sing too, but her stage fright keeps her away from performing the beautiful music she writes. Leaving her big teddy bear of a father (John Goodman) behind, Violet makes her way into Manhattan and rents out a scummy, low-rent apartment, the only thing she can afford under the circumstances.

When she doesn't find much success from the music agencies she visits, and her fright of singing in front of an audience is reemphasized after yet another failed attempt, Violet finds herself given the chance to fill the recently vacant fifth spot working as a bartender-dancer at the popular Coyote Ugly bar. She also has a token Meet Cute, then forms a romance, with a nice Australian guy named Kevin O'Donnell (Adam Garcia), who works as a cook at a nearby greasy spoon.

There is little else to say about the particulars in the plotting of "Coyote Ugly" because the film is a tried-and-true "Trying to Make It in the Big Apple" fantasy, complete with flashy editing cuts, musical numbers, wall-to-wall music, and the inevitable puppy love romance that is used as filler between the extended bar sequences. For a while, the predictable, fast-paced nature and movement of the undiscriminating story works, as we follow Violet through her adventures of becoming something she never expected in a million years she would be.

Things take a turn for the worst, however, when the action moves away from the bar in the final-third of the movie, aiming instead for melodrama that is overbaked and ineffectual. By the time the too-perfect, saccharine finale arrives, all signs of promise have been lost, and the lead character has gone from being a realistic character to a mere pawn in the plot.

Piper Perabo, in her first lead role (following a supporting part in this summer's "The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle"), surprisingly captures the screen and does what she can with the questionable material given to her. She is the glue that, no doubt, keeps the movie from self-destructing, but can only do so much on her own. As Bill Sanford, Violet's loving father, John Goodman has turned in yet another respectable supporting role, but has little to do. The same goes for Maria Bello (1999's "Payback"), as the hard-edged Lil, the manager of Coyote Ugly, as well as Melanie Lynskey (1994's "Heavenly Creatures"), as Violet's life-long best friend, Gloria. Aside from Perabo, one star who clearly does have what it takes to become a big star is Adam Garcia, as Violet's love interest, Kevin. With Hollywood good looks and a tinge of naturalism in his acting style, Garcia is a major talent to watch.

Littered mostly with songs from the late-'80s, "Coyote Ugly" consistently feels like it is stuck oddly in a time warp, but that is to expected. In the process of trying to make another "Flashdance," producer Bruckheimer has unveiled exactly what is wrong with each and every film he has made in the last decade, which is that he has nary a sign of originality or courage in his bones to make anything other than versions of movies that have already been made--and done better. "Coyote Ugly" isn't so much a movie as it is a television beer ad.

©2000 by Dustin Putman

Dustin Putman