Barb Wire (1996)

Breaking into the world of film acting can be tough, even if you have the experience. Paris Hilton even had to have multiple attempts to break into the big screen. In 1996, as the world was looking to the future, and at the highly unauthorised airing of her private life. Pamela Anderson would take an industrial, leather-clad take on Casablanca in an attempt to break Hollywood, in Barb Wire.

Barb Wire does a lot to make it feel like it leapt out of a 90s comic book!

In the year 2017, The United States is under tyrannical rule, and the resistance is engaged in a bloody civil war between the autocratic Congressional Council and the plucky resistance of the United Front. It is here Barbara Kopetski, going by the name Barb Wire, is a nightclub owner by day and bounty hunter by night. With her watering hole being the neutral ground for both parties. Things get complicated when Barb Wire is tasked with tracking down the elusive Dr Devonshire, who has had plastic surgery to conceal her identity. Whereas her freedom-fighting ex wants to help Devonshire flee to Canada, and broadcast the deep secret she knows of. Where will Barb Wire’s loyalties lie as this second civil war plays on?

Barbara Kopetski’s conflicted loyalties remain at the heart of the story.

Starting with an incredibly rockin’ cover of Word Up by Gun, Barb Wire certainly knows how to make an impression from the outset. Steeped in its comic book aesthetic brought to life, for a lack of a better term, a kick-ass tone does underscore the film, with motorbike stunts, leather-clad gunfights and sci-fi touches. All eyes are on Baywatch star Pamela Anderson in her debut starring role, the film’s poster makes ample use of Anderson herself. It goes without saying, Pamela Anderson certainly looks the part, and her willingness to do her stunts is admirable. While she does provide a heavy bogart-inspired narration, to help with the mood, it’s the supporting cast that helps elevate the material, with Xander Berkley’s occasional one-liners and quips doing a lot to punch up the film.

While Anderson does a great job with the eponymous character, a lot of the supporting roles do punch up the film!

There’s a strongly Casablanca-influenced plot line that runs through the film, much like the animated feature Foodfight. The Congressional Delegation looks explicitly like the German command, and Wire’s narrations adopting a hard-boiled tinge too does a lot to reinforce these notions too. Although I am not sure if the comic book heavily references Casablanca, However, as an introduction to the world of Steel Harbor, the familiar storyline does offer ample opportunities for world-building. One that sets up an interesting scenario nonetheless, that would have probably provided a suitable backdrop for original stories if the franchise had been more of a hit.

The Congressional Delegation do a lot to evoke the German army from Casablanca.

Whether this was going to be Pamela Anderson’s legitimate entry into Hollywood is debatable, as the film appears to be aware of its perceived reception from the get-go. Although Barb Wire blends being hyperaware of its nature, and in other scenes playing it straight does make for an intriguing mix that results in an incredibly entertaining popcorn film. It captures the mid-late 90s zeitgeist of rocking guitars, leather-clad action and an industrial aesthetic, around the familiar trapping of Casablanca, with the Free City of Steel Harbor being an exciting enough place to warrant return visits. On balance, Barb Wire understands its target well and goes in for the kill.

The world of Steel Harbor is interestingly teased out through the film.

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