In pop culture, it used to be that there were good girls and bad girls. Now the good girls want to be bad (or, at least, to bare enough body parts to qualify), the bad girls want to be role models, and everyone wants to look marvelous. Welcome to the brave new world of slut-chic cosmetic feminism. On its glib, glittery-trash surface, Coyote Ugly tells the story of Violet (Piper Perabo), a sweet, pouty-lipped New Jersey pizza waitress who arrives in Manhattan and, with a spunk matched only by her naïveté, attempts to peddle the easy-listening Alanis Morissette tunes she composes with embarrassing earnestness on her Casio. In need of fast cash, she lands a job as a bartender/dancer/skimpy-topped showgirl at Coyote Ugly, a down-and-dirty watering hole in the meatpacking district.
In fact, there actually is a Coyote Ugly, and the movie, produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, is supposedly based on it, but the establishment we see looks more like a teen-princess version of Hogs & Heifers, the faux-blue-collar beer dive where Julia Roberts, in a widely reported incident, once danced on top of the bar. Dancing on a bar and looking as hot as Julia Roberts while you’re doing it are the twin fantasies that are the real subject of Coyote Ugly.
At work, Violet joins fellow bar babes Cammie (Izabella Miko), Rachel (Bridget Moynahan), and Zoe (Tyra Banks) in booty-shaking, midriff-thrusting displays of what look like soft-core square dances. In essence, the Coyotes are strippers with their clothes on (quite au courant, actually, in Rudy Giuliani’s New York), but that hardly raises any objection from the howling, fighting dudes who line up for drinks. On one particularly rowdy night, Violet calms the crowd by grabbing a mike and singing along, with come-hither sexiness, to Blondie’s ”One Way or Another.” At that moment, we’re meant to think that a star is being born.
If you believe that, you may just buy the rest of Coyote Ugly, a movie that’s the follow-your-dream equivalent of singing karaoke along with a DVD of Flashdance. Piper Perabo, who’s like Julia Roberts crossed with Sarah Jessica Parker’s little sister, has the right flirtatious moxie to play a good girl gone slightly bad, and she’s as charming as can be expected taking Violet through the motions of a puffball plot. By the time she realizes her dream, though, the movie has turned her into a gushingly adored rock-star Cinderella with no midnight in sight. Sometimes, having it all can be all too much. C