Girls just want to have fun, and God help anyone who rains on their parade in “Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives,” a knockoff/sendup/homage/burlesque of ’70s-exploitation movies that suggests what might have happened if Eli Roth had directed “Paris Is Burning.” So far over the top it can barely see the ground, “Trannies” is a classic midnight movie that’s gotten some dubious advance PR via transgender-community outrage, but it’s sure to attract a cult aud. Any innocents wandering in unawares will require immediate resuscitation.
Popping, crackling and scarred by enough bad splices and specks to look as if it were shot in a snowstorm, this cross-gender comedy/bloodbath is overdone, and purposefully so. Those who remember drive-ins will assume helmer Israel Luna is paying tribute to Roger Corman and Russ Meyer; younger moviegoers will think he’s ripping off Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s “Grindhouse” (particularly the “missing reel” gag, which Luna pulls once too often). But the film’s physical deformities are hardly out of line with the sense of transgressive edginess perpetrated by Luna, whose subjects are meant to represent — and who can argue? — one of the final frontiers of societal intolerance.
This is where the film creates its own catch-22: On one hand, it champions transvestites (and/or transsexuals, as it’s not quite clear who’s packing what in this movie); on the other, it assumes them to be inherently funny. Luna’s challenge is to create characters that are solid enough to supersede the freak-show factor that’s going to be the draw for a large portion of his audience — something he manages with some success, even though the level of violence and vulgarity ultimately reduces everyone to a cartoon.
Bubbles Cliquot (Krystal Summers) has run into the wrong guy at the wrong time: Boner (Thomas Zembrod), who apparently didn’t notice Bubbles’ Adam’s apple and wants revenge for his wounded manhood. Raped and beaten, Bubbles goes back to the club where her lap-dancing pals — including club owner Pinky La’Trimm (Kelexis Davenport), Rachel Slurr (Willam Belli) and Emma Grashun (Erica Andrews) — are backstage discussing the men they meet in their line of work, and those customers’ closeted inclinations. But it’s a delicate line they walk with guys like Chuey (Gerard Davila), Nacho (Kenny Ochoa) and, of course, the particularly hard-hearted Boner, and when one of their own is violated, they have to take matters into their own hands.
Trannies” isn’t heavy-handed, but as its settles into its volleying pattern of ultra-brutality, it assumes, probably rightly, that there is no conventional recourse in the criminal justice system for the girls, even after two of their number are killed and Bubbles ends up in the hospital with a speech impediment (which is pretty funny). While justifying vigilantism, the pic also asks whether they have a choice. Charles Bronson probably did; not someone named Bubbles Cliquot.
The thesps are the real thing, so to speak. Belli is the most gifted comedian in the clique, and she makes the slightly dim Rachel consistently funny and memorable, even as Luna ratchets up the level of violence (and very violent dialogue) into the stratosphere. After the girls’ unfortunate first encounter with Boner and Co., there follows an utterly absurd sequence in which Fergus (Richard Curtin) teaches them the Zen way, and they come back from their “Kung Fu”-style field trip ready for a rematch.
Conveniently, Luna can always get himself out of a bad situation by claiming to have misplaced a reel. What he might have remedied, and didn’t, are the film’s occasional digressions into prolonged, gratuitous nastiness, such as a sequence in which Boner describes for minutes on end what atrocities he’s going to perform on Bubbles, as she winces and flinches. It’s a scene meant to set us up for the inevitable ass-kicking the bad guys are going to get, but it also amounts to a lot of unpleasant dead air. Still, “Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives” is the kind of movie in which loathsome characters are dispatched with a spiked heel to the eye, so it’s certainly not out to underwhelm.
Production values are deliberately and appropriately horrible.