In Barb Wire, this month’s rusted-future comic strip, Pamela Anderson Lee plays a new kind of party doll — call her Dominatrix Barbie. As Barb Wire, a bounty hunter struggling to survive in the fascist wasteland of 2017, she has smeary purple-pink lips and streams of blond hair that always manage to look vaguely wet, and she’s forever spilling out of her kinky formfitting night wear, which includes such accessories as a dog collar, a black leather corset, a black leather bustier, and black leather elbow-length gloves (do you sense a theme here?). She’s Barbarella redesigned by Helmut Newton. At the beginning, there’s a high-powered striptease number in which Barb, working undercover, appears on a dark stage as she thrusts and writhes to Gun’s propulsive version of ”Word Up,” her bra pulling back to reveal the occasional flash of nipple. The sequence, which looks like something out of an old George Michael video, lets us know two things: that anyone who bought a ticket to see more of Lee than you can glimpse on the beaches of Baywatch will have to be content with little soft-core peekaboos; and that Barb Wire is going to unfurl in the splashy-frenetic post-MTV style that hasn’t really worked in the movies since Flashdance.

The teasing, hollow ”naughtiness” of that opening — the way it flirts with porn without actually becoming porn — is typical of Barb Wire. It’s also right in line with the way that Lee has been marketed on recent magazine covers as a ”hip” version of a buxom pinup, or the way the pilfering of a home sex videotape she made with her husband, rock stud Tommy Lee, has been massaged into a titillating nugget of hype. Now that we’re seeing her under the hot voyeuristic glare of the movie camera, it’s more apparent than ever that Pamela Anderson Lee is a constructed goddess, a creature of synthetic hair, synthetic attitude, synthetic God knows what else — cheesecake served up straight from the lab. In Barb Wire, she wears two facial expressions, a pout and a glower, and her acting consists of putting the exact same hostile snarl on such don’t-mess-with-this-bitch directives as ”You want out? Click your heels together three times!” or ”Relax, Schmitz, you only die once!” or (Barb’s credo) ”Don’t call me babe!” Move over, Charlie’s Angels; this is Charlie’s android.

In Steel Harbor, the only free city left in an America ruled by dictatorship, Barb, when she isn’t taking on mercenary assignments that involve vamping some horny creep, spends her nights as proprietor of the Hammerhead Bar and Grille. By now, you could devote an entire college thesis to postapocalyptic nightclubs in movies derived from Blade Runner and RoboCop, and the Hammerhead has all the requisite trappings. Yes, there’s the chain-link-fence decor and the punky noise band; there are the hordes of plug-ugly brutes and tattooed desperadoes. Director David Hogan, a veteran of videos and commercials, keeps the fights and the crowded, ominous atmosphere swirling for maximum ”visual” punch, but the irony of this style, with its high-swank grunge clutter, is that it’s too dissociated to have coherence even as pop; we’re always aware that we’re watching sets being photographed.

The plot turns out to be a gloss on Casablanca, with Barb as the cynical loner who refuses to take sides — that is, until she runs into her former flame Axel (Temuera Morrison, the domestic terrorist from Once Were Warriors), who’s now married to a fugitive resistance fighter (Victoria Rowell, from The Young and the Restless). Will Barb help them get hold of the special contact lenses that can fool the government’s eye-scanning ID gizmos? If you care, that’s more than the movie does. Barb Wire is livelier than the recent futuristic duds Johnny Mnemonic and Tank Girl, but it doesn’t have the kind of energy that propels a true sci-fi vision. The film comes at you in shards — exhaustingly derivative images of mayhem and titillation, with Lee, a mannequin in her bad-girl bondage gear, as its blank vixen. She’s an image out of a comic book, all right, but an image is all she is. If you didn’t call her babe, she wouldn’t exist. C

Barb Wire
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