Fitfully amusing "Superstarlet A.D." pays homage to the big-haired bad girls of cinema's past -- doffing its bouffant in turn to "Queen of Outer Space"-style sci-fiers, juvenile-delinquent dramas, the Russ Meyer oeuvre, '60s grindhouse "roughies," even "Rocky Horror" camp tuners. Turning Z-grade production values to good advantage, Memphis-based helmer John Michael McCarthy gets the retro-kitsch details just right, though short feature could use more narrative muscle: Its all-attitude, little-or-no-structure approach leaves comic momentum stalled.

Fitfully amusing “Superstarlet A.D.” pays homage to the big-haired bad girls of cinema’s past — doffing its bouffant in turn to “Queen of Outer Space”-style sci-fiers, juvenile-delinquent dramas, the Russ Meyer oeuvre, ’60s grindhouse “roughies,” even “Rocky Horror” camp tuners. Turning Z-grade production values to good advantage, Memphis-based helmer John Michael McCarthy gets the retro-kitsch details just right, though short feature could use more narrative muscle: Its all-attitude, little-or-no-structure approach leaves comic momentum stalled. Midnight showcasing could stoke cult status amongst the psychotronic crowd.

Set in a world “gone nudie-cutie, Armageddon style,” pic finds presumably post-nuclear-fallout landscape depleted of testosterone — only a few, literally Neanderthal men remain. Not that surviving, nomadic girl gangs mind much. In the hallowed drive-in tradition of prurient lesbiansploitation, their ample desires do not require masculine assistance.

Barely there storyline sets machine-gun-toting, vintage-lingerie-clad “beauty cults” of Femphis against one another, their ranks defined by hair color. Nominal protag Naomi (Gina Velour) quests after her late grandmother’s signature burlesque reel.

Only thread of suspense lies in backbiting attempts to seize Queen Jezebel’s (Starlet Kerine Elkins) crown. Adding to the willful incoherence is the mysterious, much-sought-after Rachel, whose fleeting appearances are disconcertingly repped by six far-from-look-alike thesps.

Not much happens beyond numerous film in-jokes, hair-pulling fights and the occasional song interludes. Latter (performed by Elkins) are sometimes inspired, parodying multiple pop idioms; they’re also B&W pic’s only color segs.

“Badly” post-synched dialogue (some Swedish-accented, for extra cheese value) is another canny detail, along with expectedly garish garb, cheap f/x, surf-rock instrumentals and mondo toplessness. Still, laughs that bubble up would have been far more plentiful if McCarthy had expended just one-tenth the energy on script as he does on subterranean-cinema atmospherics. He’s got a distinctive enough handle on genre conventions to suggest potential career breakout — so long as future efforts provide a tad more story focus.

Amateur by intent, perfs range from blank to zesty. The 16mm lensing nicely apes an early-Corman feel on bombed-out industrial locations. Print reviewed was projected on HD vid.

Superstarlet A.D.

Production

A Big Broad presentation of a JMM production. Produced by John Michael McCarthy. Executive producers, the Mike Miller Group. Directed, written by John Michael McCarthy.

Crew

Camera (B&W/color, 16mm), Steven Oatley; editor, Erin Hagee; music, John Stivers, Shelby Bryant, Tim Feleppa; sound, Wheat; pyrotechnics, Steve Wolf; associate producer, Steven Buckley; assistant director, Emmy Collins. Reviewed at Dolby Laboratories, San Francisco, Sept. 20, 2000. (In Mill Valley Film Festival.) Running time: 69 MIN.

With

Starlet Kerine Elkins, Gina Velour, Michelle Carr, Rita D'Albert, Hugh B. Brooks, Jim Townsend, Katherine Greenwood, Kitty Diggins.
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