Thursday, January 31, 2013

Movie Review: THE GIRLS FROM H*A*R*M

2000, Provisional/Amusement Films, HF/+, $19.95, 70m 8s
By John Charles

Originally published in Video Watchdog #64

Director Pat Bishow re-assembled some of his cast and crew from THE ADVENTURES OF EL FRENETICO AND GO-GIRL for this intermittently enjoyable, but rather disappointing no-budget spy outing. Tara Jones (Tina Lee), cat burglar Viola Jones (CC Wong), and Ary (Ary Nunez) are the black leotard-clad Girls from H*A*R*M, carrying out assignments issued by their leader, Case Cassandra Stiles (Bishow's favorite villainess Louise Millmann, on the side of justice this time). Aided by spirited girl reporter Chris Hardy (Jen Mattern), the team tracks some Tibetan artwork smugglers but their activities turn out to be nothing but a small component of a far more diabolical plan. Media mogul Robert Wahl (Michael Legge) is about to launch his global financial satellite network and has gone into partnership with ruthless spy Jacob Graven (Mark Sanborne), who has his own ideas on how to exploit this new technological breakthrough. Jacob and Case have an old score to settle and Tara has more in common with Jacob's lithe bodyguard Troya Nice (Soomi Kim) than she realizes. Meanwhile, two of New York's finest (writer Jon Sanborne and Charlie "El Frenetico" Pellegrino) remain several steps behind everyone.

The setting may be contemporary but all of the gadgets are amusingly low-tech, from Chris' $10 tape recorder to the 1950s spy cameras, and there is another great collection of retro tracks (including some cues recycled from EL FRENETICO). Bishow works at The American Stock Exchange and was able to convince his bosses to let him shoot some bogus newscast footage, using the building's broadcasting facilities, giving the show some major (albeit fleeting) production value. However, the scripting is more serious this time out and does not utilize the conventions of this genre with the same degree of inventiveness. Also, a fair amount of the running time is spent establishing the characters and revealing their pasts, making this less enjoyable and repeatable than Bishow's superhero parodies, where no introductions were necessary. The end credits promise a 2001 sequel (to be called HARM'S WAY) and, now that the set-up is out of the way, the next chapter will presumably be a little more loose and expand the concept. Go-Girl herself, Frances Lee, has a cameo.
For a $2,800 shot-on-video production, the picture looks good more often than not, though the sound recording is variable, making some of the dialogue difficult to discern. Our advance screening copy was missing a few of the CHARLIE'S ANGELS-style animated scene transitions, which the director tells us will be included in street copies. The tape also includes a music video.
(HARM’S WAY was never shot, but Bishow has made three more films in the interim)

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