Despite its obvious flaws, “Barb Wire” does what it sets out to do and does it well. If not a great action film, this cartoonlike starring vehicle for Pamela Anderson Lee offers enough choreographed fight sequences, heavy artillery and fleeting glimpses of the star’s august body parts to satisfy the raging hormones of its target young male audience. Given the curiosity factor, Lee’s relentlessly high media profile and the lack of strong competition in the pre-summer market, “Barb Wire” should enjoy a decent theatrical opening and at least moderate overall returns.
Lee’s fans don’t have to wait long to get what they came for. As the opening credits roll, the “Baywatch” star is seen undulating suggestively to an insistent rock groove as a spray of water plays over her corsetted body.
As her improbable breasts work free of their leather confines, the camera pulls back to reveal that Lee is performing a stage act in a futuristic strip club. A handful of sleazy patrons whistle and catcall until one poor fool makes the mistake of using that B-word. Faster than you can say “Don’t call me babe,” Lee hurls one of her shoes at the offender, embedding the six-inch heel in his forehead.
The scene is pretty much “Barb Wire” in a nutshell: Lee in and out of tight leather, a menacing vision of the future and lots of cartoonish violence.
Pic is set in the year 2017, in the midst of America’s second civil war, in Steel Harbor, the only city not under the control of either federal troops or resistance fighters. This no-man’s land is the home of a seedy yet stylish joint called the Hammerhead Bar & Grille, owned by the aloof and amoral Barb Wire (Lee).
Barb is forced — inexplicably, since the club is always packed — to moonlight as a bounty hunter. And she has a knack for it. Early on, Barb blasts her way into an apartment, taking out two well-armed police guards, to capture a fugitive named Krebs.
The surprisingly complicated plot has Krebs in possession of valuable contact lenses that allow the wearer to escape detection by the government’s ubiquitous retinal scanners. The evil feds suspect he’s about to pass the lenses on to a former government doctor, Cora D (Victoria Rowell), who has defected to the rebel cause.
Barb eventually takes possession of the lenses and must decide whether to sell them to the highest bidder — so she can pay for an operation to restore her blind brother’s eyesight! — or give them to Cora D, which, for convoluted reasons, will save millions of lives.
It’s all improbable, silly and full of gaping plot holes, but it matters not at all, since “Barb Wire” is a ride that is definitely fun while it lasts. Pic is based on a comic book from Dark Horse, which also published “The Mask,” and Lee, with her bionic bosom, wasp-thin waist and pretty, symmetrical features, is the embodiment of a comic book super heroine.
And while Lee’s dramatic abilities are clearly limited, she’s certainly up to the task of portraying the snarling Barb, whose emotions range narrowly from homicidal to merely pissed off. Lee also reportedly did many of her own stunts, which she handles admirably, especially given her skin-tight wardrobe and towering footwear.
Unfortunately, the able supporting players aren’t given much to work with, and they seem to be working hard to breathe life into their colorful but two-dimensional roles.
Among the underutilized thesps is Temuera Morrison (“Once Were Warriors”), who plays Axel, the resistance fighter trying to smuggle Cora D out of the country. He is Barb’s only love interest, although what goes on between them is very tame.
Tech credits are decent if not top-notch. Jean-Philippe Carp’s futuristic production design, which strives for a high-tech retro “Blade Runner” look, is serviceable, though it could go further in creating a bleak future world. Barb’s showroom-perfect Triumph motorcycle gets major play.
In fact, Steel Harbor doesn’t appear appreciably more desolate than any current day industrial port city — some of the exterior scenes are clearly recognizable as San Pedro harbor — and the Hammerhead Bar looks pretty much like any New York City dance club circa 1985.