Tuesday, June 7, 2022


 by Patrick Bromley

Shannon goes West.

The Rowdy Girls (2000, dir. Steven Nevius)

There are so many reasons on paper that I should love The Rowdy Girls. It's a western, and, to my knowledge, the only western Shannon Tweed ever made. It's distributed by Troma, a studio for which I have professed my fandom in the past. It even co-stars the late, great Julie Strain, meaning it features not one but two titans of '90s video and cable in its cast. It's got musical interludes that explain the plot to us. I swear I want to love it, but it's one of my least favorite Tweed movies I've watched thus far.

Shannon Tweed stars as Velvet McKenzie, a prostitute who convinces one of her johns to rob a bank for her so she can leave the life behind. Eventually she crosses paths with runaway bride Sara (Deanna Brooks), who, like Velvet, is on her way to San Francisco but doesn't want to make the trip alone. The pair are kidnapped by outlaws Billy Poke (Daniel Murray) and Mick (Julie Strain), meaning they have to escape if they want their freedom and to make a life of their own in San Francisco.
The "desire for freedom" theme is the best thing The Rowdy Girls has going for it, as the screenplay (by Karia Bromily and producer/former Playboy Playmate India Allen) explores how each of the three main female characters -- Velvet, Sara, and Mick -- all long for independence in a world dominated by men. I appreciate that the movie has something on its mind, though the actual execution borders on brainless. I love the western setting, though the budgetary limitations are very apparent, and I like that The Rowdy Girls attempts to build an ensemble around Tweed instead of just expecting her to carry the whole film on her back. Unfortunately, no one manages to stand out save for Julie Strain, who is clearly having a good time playing a villain (and who has an athletic sex scene early on that makes the one in Showgirls appear lazy). She's not as good an actor as Tweed, may she rest in peace, but she has a presence that's undeniable.

The Rowdy Girls could have used more of that presence, because its biggest sin is that it's boring. The story is muddled, there are too many characters, and no one gets much to do but bide their time until their contractual nude scene. Tweed is good at the film's center, but she's not given much of a part to play nor a cohesive tone to which she can adhere. Is this a straightforward western? A comedy? The filmmakers never decide, leaving Tweed and company a little stranded. It's curiously airless for a movie that should be so much fun.

Sexual Response (1992, dir. Yaky Yosha)
Those looking for more typical Tweed fare for Junesploitation Shannon Tweed day would do well to check out Sexual Response, a 1992 erotic thriller that casts the icon as Dr. Eve Robinson, the host of a sex talk radio show who meets Edge (Emile Levisetti), a sculptor with whom she begins an affair and whose name is Edge. 
Vernon Wells her ponytailed husband who's always away on business. What first appears to be a Fatal Attraction knock off with Edge -- whose name, and I cannot stress this enough, is Edge -- getting too obsessed with Eve, eventually takes a turn into more of a conventional thriller. There's a surprise reveal in the film's final 15 minutes that I won't spoil except to say that there's a reason you cast Vernon Wells to play the husband.

One of the major departures of Sexual Response is that it finds Tweed changing her hair color from her trademark blonde locks to a more reddish brown. I assume -- and I don't think incorrectly -- that it's an attempt by the filmmakers to make her more demure and modest. It's not necessary, but it does make both the character and the film stand out from the rest of her work. This is the best performance I've seen Tweed give thus far. Instead of a supporting role, she's finally front and center in a movie that demonstrates just what a good actor she is. Watch her in the scene in which Edge (whose name is...you guessed it) seduces her by having her pose nude for him. She's so uncomfortable and nervous and turned on at the same time, subtly letting all those conflicting emotions play across her face. Watch her in the film's final moments, where she tries not to break down during a live broadcast as she looks back on what she's lost. Performances like this are what inspired me to want to write Need for Tweed in the first place.
Which brings us to Edge, who is, unfortunately, the worst. 
The first time we see him he's straddling his motorcycle beneath an enormous billboard of the Marlboro Man, just in case we don't quite catch the archetype. Actually, that's not totally fair; Edge is rugged and stoic like Mr. Marlboro, rides a motorcycle and wears an earring, has an allergy to sleeves, but he's also a tortured sculptor. He's the best of both worlds: the bad boy and the sensitive artist. I'm sure Emile Levisetti only did what was asked of him here, but he does nothing but pout and brood in equal measure, saying shit like "All you do is think...don't you ever feel anything?" It's hard to tell what Eve sees in him besides finally finding a proper lay.

There's a lot about Sexual Response that feels like a romance novel brought to life (given my limited experience with romance novels, mostly through movies like Romancing the Stone and the more recent The Lost City). Outside of Tweed's figure on display, the love scenes don't seem to be directed for male arousal. It's an erotic thriller told from a woman's point of view, despite being written and directed by men. As these movies go, it's pretty damn good. Except for you, Edge. Your name is Edge.

The Ranking So Far
1. Electra (1999)
2. Sexual Response (1992)
3. Meatballs 3 (1986)
4. Stormy Nights (1999)
5. Scandalous Behavior (1999)
6. The Rowdy Girls (2000)

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