This review was updated on Oct. 14, 2003.
It’s been a long downhill slide from the days when pop stars held their own in Westerns — like Ricky Nelson in “Rio Bravo” — to female hiphoppers looking just plain silly in the new revenge oater, “Gang of Roses.” What should have been a comedy is made with such lock-jawed seriousness and literalism by writer-director Jean Claude La Marre that auds laugh — but at these gun-totin’ gals, not with them. One-week theatrical window will close shut fast, followed by quick getaway to dusty vid shelves.
When gold-hungry crooks gun down the sister of ex-outlaw Rachel (Monica Calhoun), she wants revenge so she straps on her swanky all-leather outfit. Pic then abruptly introduces three other seemingly unrelated Wild West women: Maria (LisaRaye), who’s an ace with a knife; Chastity (rapper Lil’ Kim), who kills her lovers once she tires of them; and Zang Li (Marie Matiko), who loves twirling her six-shooters.
Somehow, the trio knows to meet with Rachel — their former bank robbery leader — and hear her pitch on settling her personal score. The enticement is a buried stash of $500,000 in gold.
First, the gang frees Kim (Stacey Dash), a hothead with a pistol, from the gallows (with a bit of help from Mario Van Peebles, in an uncredited, single-shot cameo). Step two is looking fine in an array of bare-midriff outfits while galloping across what clearly appears to be the Paramount Ranch to the beat of a hip-hop number.
Step three is scoping out the competition (led by a ludicrous Bobby Brown as vision-impaired Left Eye Watkins), while Chastity flashes her come-hither looks at the local deputy, Babyface Malone (La Marre).
Hardly a Western genre cliche remains untouched, down to a wooden Indian and a single tumbleweed blowing down a deserted street. The final shootout can’t come soon enough. Full-time thesps in the cast, including Calhoun and LisaRaye, and their rapping co-stars are all equally dreadful, hopelessly tilted toward such modern behavior that it wouldn’t have been jarring to see someone pull a cell phone from their holster.
Few Westerns have looked or sounded phonier, and La Marre’s direction doesn’t even try to spin the genre into a completely hip-hop style, in the way that acid Westerns imposed ’60s drug culture over 19th century America.