by Rob Gonsalves
Critics are often too harsh on movies like 'Coyote Ugly,' a harmless enough trifle.There are worse ways to spend 94 minutes on a humid August afternoon than sitting in an air-conditioned theater watching several attractive women writhe and giggle their way through a mechanical confection. Some have said it's not bad enough, and that's certainly true; it's not so-bad-it's-good, and it's not so-good-it's-surprising, either. I equate it to last year's Deep Blue Sea, another late-summer cheese-fest that did its job for me exactly as long as it lasted, but not beyond that.
"Movie cute; won't shake your foundations, but pleasant enough."
Some of the disappointment centers on the revelation that Coyote Ugly is not particularly sleazy (yes, it's rated PG-13, which means the women can wear wet, clinging, tight tops that almost render full nudity redundant anyway, but they keep those clothes on). It's actually kind of sweet and goofy, and part of the reason is Piper Perabo, a likable, frisky presence with a warm smile -- a Denise Richards who can act. Perabo plays the heroine, Violet Sanford, who moves from New Jersey to New York in pursuit of songwriting dreams; she just wants to write songs, though, because even though she has a lovely voice, stage fright smacks her down whenever she actually has someone looking at her while she sings her own compositions.
New York smacks her down, too; Violet bumps against the city's freezing disinterest in struggling young musicians (one music-publishing receptionist is played by Ellen Cleghorne, too little seen lately, who brings such snap to her rejection of Violet that she seems to speak with the voice of New York). So Violet stumbles across a job -- at Coyote Ugly, the notorious East Village joint where the sultry barkeeps dance on the bar when they're not setting it on fire (and sometimes when they are). Bar owner Lil (Maria Bello in an entertainingly direct performance) sizes up Violet and hires her because she "looks like a kindergarten teacher." Violet soon takes her place among the other coyotes -- friendly blond Cammie (Izabella Miko), bitchy Rachel (Bridget Moynahan) -- and is rechristened "Jersey," or "Jersey Nun" (don't ask).
The script is credited to Gina Wendkos, who also wrote a 1992 Jami Gertz vehicle called Jersey Girl; write what you know, I guess. What Wendkos knows is mostly borrowed plot elements: the disapproving dad (John Goodman invests his role with far more comic dignity than was probably on the page), the sensitive boyfriend Kevin (Adam Garcia, who has an easy rapport with Perabo), the back-home best friend (Melanie Lynskey, once again bringing soft warmth to whatever she does), the hard-ass boss with a well-hidden heart of gold. Still, the cast fleshes out the clichés exuberantly and with little irony, which is something of a relief.
Coyote Ugly has a jostling good humor about it. If you find Violet likable, you won't mind the ridiculous fairy-tale ending; "You won't be validated," a sneering receptionist had told Violet earlier, but she gets validated, and how. The producer, Jerry Bruckheimer, gets some validation, too; after a long run of terrible movies, produced solo or with his late partner Don Simpson, he has made two films this summer I actually kinda liked -- this one and Gone in 60 Seconds. Both are essentially remakes of past Bruckheimer hits -- Coyote Ugly shares more than a little with Flashdance -- but somehow they're better remakes.I'd rather see Bruckheimer remake his own bad movies well than have him remake good movies badly.
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originally posted: 01/26/07 15:46:00