Screenplay : Gina Wendkos
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2000
Stars : Piper Perabo (Violet), Adam Garcia (Kevin O'Donnell), Maria Bello (Lil), Izabella Miko (Cammie), Bridget Moynahan (Rachel), Tyra Banks (Zoe), John Goodman (Violet's Father)
"Coyote Ugly" is not much more than a silly, groan-inducing tale of a good girl trying to make it in big bad New York City livened up with a few rousing scenes of curvaceous young women in tight leather pants and wet tank tops shaking their stuff on a bar. It is of little surprise that the film's entire ad campaign has been based on the latter part of that description, rather than the former, even though the racy bar scenes take up considerably less running time than most horny teenage boys are hoping for.
Piper Perabo, showing considerably more energy and range than she did in "The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle," stars as Violet, a New Jersey pizza waitress who makes good on her dream of moving to New York City in order to become a songwriter. She doesn't want to become a singer, mind you; she just wants to see famous people singing her songs, which turn out to be a cross between the Indigo Girls and the stuff the Britney Spears teen set performs. So, she dutifully takes her demo tape around town and finds that no one is interested a fresh-faced young girl whose opening line is, "Hi, my name is Violet and I moved here to become a songwriter." This sort of clutzy ignorance is supposed to indicate her character's sweet naivete, but it just makes her look stupid.
So, Violent, who is broke, has no prospects, and was just robbed of all of her possessions, overhears a conversation in which she learns that a barmaid job will soon be opening up at an insanely popular club called Coyote Ugly. When she arrives for her "audition," she finds that Coyote Ugly, which is buried deep in the heart of the meatpacking district, is essentially a strip club in which the women dancers remain tantalizingly clothed and serve hard drinks at the same time. Packed from wall to wall with crazed men and women, Coyote Ugly is a small slice of hedonism served up hot, where the dancer/bartenders grind their pelvises together almost as well as they pour straight-up whiskey shots by the dozen.
Violet thinks she will never be able to handle such a place, but it turns out she has a little Jezebel deep inside her. Soon, she's bumping and grinding with the best of them, even bringing a potential riot to a halt simply by doing a sultry-sexy lip-synch rendition of Blondie's "One Way." The nice girl by day, bad girl by night dichotomy is all-too reminiscent of "Flashdance" (1983), one of producer Jerry Bruckheimer's early successes.
Meanwhile, bland plot developments arise, including Violet's relationship with a young Aussie named Kevin (Adam Garcia) and her increasingly strained relationship with her widower father (played with good humor by John Goodman), who doesn't like the idea of his only daughter showing up on the front page of "The Village Voice" for dancing half-naked on a bar. These subplots are painfully perfunctory, but nothing is more painful that the weepy eyed scenes in which Violet goes to the roof of her apartment building to compose soft-rock ballads that also comment on what is happening in the story. For a few moments, I thought the film was going to crack open and expose itself as a musical; and, as bad as that would have been, at least it would have shown some semblance of narrative daring, which is precisely what "Coyote Ugly" is most lacking.
In the end, though, it is the forced sentiment that brings "Coyote Ugly" down. All the fast-edited, music-video style exhilaration in the world isn't going to cover up the fact that Violet's story is boring and the mawkish sentiment surrounding her personal life and songwriting dreams is of the cheapest sort. The movie essentially turns out to be a duel between the tawdry and the maudlin, and the latter is, unfortunately, victorious.
©2000 James Kendrick