I was too young to know what a sex-symbol was when Pamela Anderson was at the height of her fame for being possibly the most famous sex-symbol of the 90s, and so her crowning cinematic moment, 1996’s Barb Wire, passed me by. I hadn’t even heard of the Dark Horse comic it was adapted from, and the promise of breasts didn’t excite me … yet.
But had anyone told me that it was actually a shameless rip-off of Casablanca, I would have rushed out to see it! Well, I wouldn’t have, because it was rated R.
Set twenty years after the film’s release, the United States have improbably fallen under the control of a fascist government. Casablanca relocates to the imaginatively named Steel Harbour and Barb Wire is Rick, and his Cafe American becomes Barb’s industrial-punk warehouse-nightclub called the Hammerhead. The letters of transit become contact lenses which conceal the digital identity of the wearer. Viktor and Ilsa are gender-swapped to Axel and Cora, whilst the incompatible Sydney Greenstreet’s Ferrari is transformed into Big Fatso (played by Andre Rosey Brown), a grotesquely obese man carried around in the bucket of a backhoe.
The plot beats are almost identical. What makes no sense, though, is that Barb has no intention of actually helping Axel and Cora … she’s not even the reluctant hero that Rick was! It’s only when Big Fatso betrays her that she actually assists their escape to the sanctuary of Canada. The real hero of the film is the Captain Renault replacement, Chief Willis.
You might hope that a film so shamelessly ripping off one of the greatest films of all time whilst adding boobs and gunfights might make for a camp classic, but sadly Barb Wire is just ugly and grim.
Pamela Anderson isn’t as egregiously awful as I expected her to be from the reviews – she’s saddled with an atrocious script, and was more than likely dumped upon when the film came out due to the pervasive sexism of the 90s, where women were regularly hoisted onto sex-symbol pedestals to be gleefully knocked off at the first opportunity.
Take care of yourselves and have an A+ day, everyone!