'High heels and low lifes'

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"High Heels and Low Lifes" is a lively, likable little movie that opens in limited release on Friday. While it's nothing terribly special, if you are looking for a crime comedy buddy movie, "High Heels" offers at least as many jokes as the big budget "Bandits," yet it's a blessed 40 minutes shorter.

This propulsive English gal-pal film stars Minnie Driver ("Good Will Hunting") as a sweet and naive London nurse. Mary McCormack, who played Mrs. Howard Stern in "Private Parts," is her best friend, an unemployed and not overly talented American actress. Out of boredom, altruism, and general air headedness, they come up with the really bad idea of trying to blackmail a gang of bank robbers in order to buy Driver's hospital a needed MRI scanner.


Of course, the ditzy brunette and the scatterbrained blonde have only the vaguest of ideas how to extract 200,000 pounds from professional criminals without getting themselves killed. As they are hiding in the bushes, waiting for the bad guys to drop the money into the designated trashcan, Driver frets, "We should have done more research. There must be a blackmailing Web site."


Their first attempt at retrieving the payoff ends disastrously, with the girls lucky to escape with their lives. For no apparent reason other than possibly PMS-related mood swings, the young ladies then decide that rather than quit while they're still alive, they are going to up the ante and demand 1 million pounds.

Slowly, they get better at their new life of crime, but are still repeatedly outwitted by the cunning and brutal head gangster.

Eventually, throwing all sense to the wind, they confront the gangster in his suburban mansion. The girls steal his arsenal of grenade-launching assault rifles, leaving the villain with only a 2-inch-long derringer pistol for the climactic shootout.

Now, I know that there are a fair number of men out there, especially sci-fi fans, who find movies about attractive women shooting big guns and kicking bad guys' butts rather, well, stimulating. Personally speaking, women beating men up and blasting holes in them has never struck me as particularly alluring. But, if that's your little predilection, it isn't my job to worry about it. My job is to tell you that you'll be disappointed if you go hoping for another "Tomb Raider."


This is a chick flick. These aren't cartoon superheroines, but real women (in increasingly unreal situations) with whom other women can identify. Thus, they turn out to be complete klutzes with guns. Driver can barely hit the broad side of the mansion with her M-4. Fortunately, her wildly inaccurate shooting blasts so many antique decorative elements off the facade that the bad guys are eventually konked by falling sconces and the like.

Like 1991's widely misunderstood "Thelma and Louise," "High Heels and Low Lifes" uses a feminist veneer to subvert the political correctness that too often blocks the making of movies where women could get to laugh at silly female friends the way men get to laugh at dunderheaded buddies in the many movies like "Dumb and Dumber."

"Women are doing every kind of job now," McCormack argues as she tries to enlist Driver in her ludicrous scheme. "We can do extortion." Of course, what makes them appealing is that they can't do extortion well. Their femininity constantly gets in the way.

Yet, while a few feminists will no doubt wax indignant, probably more men will be irritated by how the girls' emotions interfere with their thinking logically about their scheme.


Similarly, many men hated "Thelma and Louise" less for its supposed feminism, than for how dopily Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon let their feelings botch up their escape from Arkansas to Mexico.

For reasons I don't fully understand (and am not sure I really want to think about), most of us guys enjoy doing some serious planning about precisely how we'd handle it if we ever had to climb into that white Bronco and make a dash for the border. By the time Thelma and Louise pulled out of the parking lot, for example, I already had an itinerary worked out for their getaway, with them crossing the Rio Grande at Brownsville during the evening rush hour, when the border guards are most overworked.

Instead, Sarandon refuses to drive through Texas because the state holds bad memories for her. ("Bad memories," I nearly screamed. "How can you let bad memories get in the way of the perfect escape?") So, they motor 1,500 miles out of their way to Arizona, where they fall into the Grand Canyon.

It took me a decade to grow up enough to realize that "Thelma and Louise" was an excellent movie because it didn't use my kind of masculine logic in telling the story of two not very bright but appealing women who didn't much use my kind of logic either.


"High Heels and Low Lifes" isn't in "Thelma and Louise's" league, but it offers a taste of the same pleasures.

Rated R for lots of bad language, a topless bar scene, and moderately strong violence.

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