[Screen It]

(2000) (Piper Perabo, Adam Garcia) (PG-13)

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Drama/Romantic Comedy: A small town girl heads to New York City to pursue her dreams of becoming a songwriter but ends up getting sidetracked by her job as a sexy barmaid at a rowdy and notorious bar owned and run by women.
Violet Sanford (PIPER PERABO) is a 21-year-old aspiring songwriter who's decided to leave her small New Jersey town and her overprotective, single father, Bill (JOHN GOODMAN), for a shot at success in the Big Apple. Driven there by her best friend, Gloria (MELANIE LYNSKEY), Violet sets out to storm the record industry with her various ditties.

Unfortunately, she runs into the typical closed doors and setbacks, and even mistakes a restaurant worker, Kevin O'Donnell (ADAM GARCIA), for an industry insider. To make matters worse, her dungy apartment is broken into and all of her cash is stolen. She gets a break, however, when she happens to overhear several attractive young women, Zoe (TYRA BANKS), Rachel (BRIDGET MOYNAHAN) and Cammie (IZABELLA MIKO), comment on the money they made the night before and the fact that Zoe is leaving their fold.

Learning that they're "coyotes" - so named for the notorious bar, "Coyote Ugly," where they work as sassy, strutting bartenders - Violet meets the owner, Lil (MARIA BELLO), and manages to get a job there. Although she's taken aback by the wild, near stripper like atmosphere where the ladies tease and taunt their largely male clientele by dancing, strutting and cavorting atop the bar, Violet soon figures out how to fit in.

She also begins to fall for Kevin, an Aussie who's charmed her from the beginning and pushes her to follow her songwriting dream. The only problem is her crippling case of stage fright when it comes to singing her own songs and the fact that she must perform them in public to be noticed as a songwriter. As Violet attempts to do just that, she must contend with her romance with Kevin, her father's reaction to where she works, and the wild antics and demands of her stint as the newest "coyote."

OUR TAKE: 4.5 out of 10
It's rare when a film producer's name becomes as well known as the many of the director's working for him, but Jerry Bruckheimer is a prime example of that cinematic phenomenon. Although he's never directly helmed or written any of the films he's produced, his fingerprints are all over most of them, and while most highbrow critics have never been members of his cheerleading squad, most of his films - including "Armageddon," "The Rock" and "Top Gun" - have been hugely successful with audiences worldwide.

Usually more concerned with flash and style over real substance or character depth, one of the major criticisms of his films has been that they're overflowing with testosterone and consequently don't have much room for female characters other than in supporting and mostly forgettable roles. While 1995's "Dangerous Mind" is an exception to that rule, one really has to go back to one of his earlier efforts, 1983's "Flashdance," to see a female lead in what most would associate as a typically stylish, but otherwise empty Bruckheimer picture.

In that film - which was essentially a glorified and extended music video - a young, working class woman (Jennifer Beals) dreams of becoming a ballerina but makes a living dancing in a bar at night and must deal with various conflicts and romance in her life while doing so. Now, nearly twenty years later, Bruckheimer revisits that basic story in "Coyote Ugly," a flashy film that feigns depth and substance when it's really only about displaying some attractive and curvaceous women acting sassy and showing off their bodily assets while dancing atop a bar counter.

Sure, there's the underlying story of the small-town girl who travels to the foreign and unforgiving big city (that's a whopping 42 miles from home), faces and overcomes various obstacles and eventually finds both love and success by the time the end credits roll. Yet, the way in which the film is mounted and consequently looks and feels, one can't help shake the feeling that at any moment the testosterone-laced women will drop what they're doing and race out the door to stop an asteroid hurtling toward Earth, steal a bunch of exotic cars or square off in a tense submarine thriller.

That's because just as is the case with so many Bruckheimer films, this one has plenty of flash, sex appeal and grand staging, but also copious amounts of stupidity, often inane dialogue and contrived moments (that particularly pile on and in a hurry during its third act) that undermine its efforts. Nonetheless, and as is also often true with the producer's films, this one has an infectious feel to it, and it quickly manages to crawl under your skin like a guilty pleasure, something akin to that other flashy but empty bartending movie, 1988's "Cocktail."

Despite the fact that it's a good possibility that many women will be offended - and rightly so -- by what's essentially not much more than a meat market strip show, the scenes set in the bar -- for which the movie is named and where the young and attractive women "perform" -- are easily the film's highlights. Featuring a bunch of sassy vixens doing their thing to a fun and upbeat soundtrack, and shot in a quick cutting, MTV stylish approach, the scenes clearly aren't lacking in vibrancy and panache, and will certainly be enjoyed by the young male members of the viewing audience.

While freshman screenwriter Gina Wendkos' script is nothing short of derivative and often feels hackneyed and forced (including all of the bits about stage fright that only occurs when the lead character tries to sing her own songs, but not others), it does manage to include a good amount of humor that works surprisingly well and fortunately doesn't ever feel too contrived. Such moments nicely counter the flashier material, but both Wendkos' and veteran TV commercial turned first time director David McNally's efforts certainly benefit the most from the presence of relative newcomer Piper Perabo in the lead role.

Possessing a fortunate combination of both looks and charm, Perabo (who makes up for her appearance in "The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle") exudes an intoxicating, budding star quality that really hasn't been seen since Julia Roberts broke onto the scene in the late '80s. While the script doesn't do her any great favors (as far as character development beyond the predictable), Perabo - who shares the same sort of big, toothy grin and coltish looks with Roberts -- takes the roll and runs with it, creating an instantly likable and enjoyable character that could be a huge stepping stone for future success and fame.

She also gets to play off Adam Garcia ("Wilde") who, despite inhabiting a barely developed character, similarly creates an instantly likeable persona. While the chemistry between them isn't scorching, it's fun to watch. As far as the supporting performances, John Goodman ("Bringing out the Dead," "Barton Fink") delivers an enjoyable variation on his blue collar, over protective father role from TV's "Roseanne," and Melanie Lynskey ("Ever After," "Detroit Rock City") is good in a brief stint as Violet's hometown friend.

As far as the rest of the actresses who make up the remaining "coyotes," they're apparently there mainly for their looks and bodies. While Maria Bello ("Payback," TV's "ER") gets to shine a tiny bit as the bar's tough owner, the other actresses - including model turned actress Tyra Banks ("Higher Learning"), Bridget Moynahan ("Whipped," "In the Weeds") and newcomer Izabella Miko - can't do anything with their flat and one-dimensional characters.

Despite a somewhat infectious, guilty pleasure veneer, this is another of those films where you wish that nearly everything but the two main characters had been scraped and replaced with a new and much improved script to supplement and play off their charming personalities. As with most Bruckheimer films, that's a moot point, and I'm sure the film will equally divide audiences and critics into those who absolutely loathe it, and those who want to but can't or simply don't mind the usual Bruckheimer-isms.

While I fall somewhere in the middle but lean toward the former, there's no denying that the film has its audience pleasing moments, decent bits of humor and a star-making appearance by Piper Perabo. While they collectively can't completely make up for its faults, they certainly make the film a bit easier to watch, and may just turn it - in several years -- into one of those guilty pleasures like "Flashdance" and "Cocktail" that you can't escape or pass by while flicking through the TV channels. As such, "Coyote Ugly" manages a 4.5 out of 10 rating.

Reviewed August 1, 2000 / Posted August 4, 2000

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