Back in 1983, a little movie called 'Flashdance' was released and became a huge blockbuster. It told the story of a welder-by-day/dancer-by-night who dreamed of a legit career as a ballerina, and it was as empty-headed as it was a stylistic triumph. Though billed as a "female empowerment" tale by its filmmakers, it was pure male fantasy engineered as pop culture event, complete with a hip soundtrack, music video-ready dance sequences, and (more for the men in the audience than the women) lots of hot, sweaty, half-naked chicks writhing around in torn sweatshirts. Nevertheless, 'Flashdance' went on to gross over $100 million (back when movie tickets were still, like $4 a pop), and "female empowerment" practically became its own cinematic subgenre.
'Flashdance' was also a watershed moment in the career of Jerry Bruckheimer, a producer not known for either a.) his subtlety, b.) his originality, or c.) his lack of commercial savvy. So, almost two decades after his success with 'Flashdance,' he returned to the same girl power trough and produced a sort of thematic sibling called 'Coyote Ugly.' Also a bit of a distaff version of 'Cocktail' (as if that's something to aspire to), 'Coyote Ugly' replaced 'Flashdance's welder-by-day/dancer-by-night with an aspiring songwriter-by-day/bartender-by-night, and xeroxed almost all of the original script, resulting in just about the exact same film. Though 'Coyote Ugly' was not the pop culture sensation 'Flashdance' was, it still made enough cash at the box office that one has to wonder just what sort of mind control Bruckheimer continues to wield over the movie going public to make them swallow such pap.
Piper Perabo stars as Violet Sanford, a naive Jersey transplant to the big city of New York. She has dreams of finding musical superstardom as a songwriter (having apparently listened to one too many Jewel albums), so she shops her demo tape around to all the big record companies with no luck. She further strikes out after hitting on studly young booking agent Kevin O'Donnell, who turns out to be a fraud. So she does what any other self-respecting wanna-be musician would do, she gets a job as a bar-straddling, beer-slinging, boob thrusting "coyote" at a local bar to make ends meet.
It's here that 'Coyote Ugly' really begins, as the movie is purely an excuse to rip off 'Flashdance's music video numbers, only instead of Jennifer Beals sweatin' to Michael Sembello, we get Perabo juggling a Heineken while straddling the laps of drunk frat guys (is this feminist progress?) Violet also quickly gets adopted by her fellow coyotes, who are at first one tough bunch. There's Maria Bello, the bar-owner-with-a-heart-of-gold. A young Bridget Moynahan, doing a mean impersonation of Gina Gershon in 'Showgirls' (they even have the same bitchy-rival part). And best of all, "America's Next Top Model' tyrant Tyra Banks, who still can't act a whit. If these wafer-thin characters doing their tightly choreographed bar/dance numbers are the most ridiculous part of the film, they are also its only highlight -- there really is no other reason for 'Coyote Ugly' to exist other than to give us camp lovers the thrill of watching Perabo almost light herself on fire while trying to ignite a trail of Jack Daniels to impress the clientele.
The only thing saving 'Coyote Ugly' from being pure sexist twaddle is the fact that there really is a "coyote" bar with dancing babes who perform juggling acts for tips (no, it's not called Hooters). That gives the film a smidge of realism, at least in the sense that it's not hard to imagine that the real Coyote Ugly is filled with girls with dreams bigger than their bank accounts. Of course, Bruckheimer and director David McNally (whose only other big-screen credit is Bruckheimer's 'Kangaroo Jack') aren't particularly interested in making a documentary. This is pure fluff designed to appeal to the fantasies of teenage girls (or, rather, teenage girls as they exist in Bruckheimer and McNally's fantasies), with Violet plowing ahead to realize her big dream while facing seemingly insurmountable obstacles. We know how this story is going to turn out, though -- do you think the puppy-dog O'Donnell (played forgettably by one-time "It" boy Adam Garcia) will get Violet a big gig at an open mic night, and she'll land a recording contract!? -- making 'Coyote Ugly' about as subversive and insightful as an episode of "Hannah Montana."
It's interesting to reflect that in its original theatrical form, 'Coyote Ugly' was a pretty tame movie, too. It's PG-13 all the way -- the language never too salacious, the situations far from explicit, and certainly the sex quotient about as steamy as a daytime soap opera. An Unrated version subsequently hit DVD about three years ago, which featured seven minutes of additional steamy footage deemed "too hot" for the theaters. In addition to some (dull) character-building bits, the main attraction to the Unrated cut is a sex scene featuring Perabo's body double (whose rack is considerably larger) and many shots of Garcia's naked rear end. (Depending on your gender/orientation, you may find one or the other -- or both -- quite titillating.) Luckily, Disney has included both cuts on this Blu-ray, so you can decide for yourself.
There is little I can to say to defend 'Coyote Ugly.' It's contrived and cynical, but undeniably entertaining precisely because it's so predictable (it's like a cinematic security blanket). Sure, this is a guilty pleasure, with the guilt heavily underlined, and it's so stupid I'm pretty embarrassed to be giving it three stars, but I believe a truly bad movie is one you just want to turn off after ten minutes, and not one you can't stop watching no matter how hard you try. I guess every generation needs their own 'Flashdance,' and as far as sexist female empowerment epics go, 'Coyote Ugly' is hilariously bad fun.
'Coyote Ugly' makes its long-awaited (okay, awaited by me) Blu-ray debut in a very spiffy 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer (2.35:1). Both the theatrical and unrated cuts are offered via seamless branching, and the effect is quite seamless -- either version looks quite nice.
Released in 2000, 'Coyote Ugly' still looks fresh considering it's a catalog title that's almost a decade old. The transfer has not been overly-tweaked, so it retains a sense of realism while still being quite slick. There's nary a blemish to be found on the source, and blacks are excellent. Contrast doesn't boast the kind of excessive pop found on more recent transfers, but I appreciated the level of natural detail that remains. Colors are quite vibrant but not excessive, which further aids fine textures. Shadow delineation is also excellent.
As for nitpicks, the use of obvious color filters often leaves fleshtones a but unreal (for some reason, John Goodman fares the worse, as if he's a pink-tinged mannequin). There is also a whiff of softness to the image, though generally things remain sharp. I also found the transfer dark on occasion, but it's nothing severe. Further positives include a very clean encode, so there's little to sweat out -- the girls of 'Coyote Ugly' look quite lovely in high-def.
Disney offers an uncompressed PCM 5.1 Surround track (48kHz/16-bit) on both the theatrical and unrated cuts, though it's not the Dolby TrueHD track originally announced (guess the studio changed its mind?). In any case, the film's sound design is just not as hopped-up as I'd hope, so this regardless of audio format I never got all that hot and bothered.
Surround use doesn't work up much energy. Even during the big choreographed bar sequences, the roaring music and crowd don't light up the soundfield. Discrete effects feel too restrained, and the songs and score are also pushed to the front. Dynamics are still very good, however, with the polished sheen you'd expect from a major studio film. Low bass is ample (if not truly ass-kickin'), and there is a solid amount of expansiveness and cleanliness to the rest of the spectrum. Dialogue is perhaps a tad too low in the mix, but I was still able to listen to the track without mucking with the volume or resorting to subtitles. No, 'Coyote Ugly' is no great shakes, but I guess it's still fine for what it is.
'Coyote Ugly' is one of those discs that has a ton of bulletpoints on the back of the box, but the material is so superficial it makes the movie's script look deep by comparison. This stuff is as flimsy as cardboard. (Disney also hasn't put much effort into buffing it up for high-def, as all the video-based extras are 480i/MPEG-2 only. English, French and Spanish subtitle options are also offered.)
'Coyote Ugly' is a sexist-slash-female empowerment yarn in the "grand" tradition of such '80s classics as 'Flashdance.' As the story is so formulaic and predictable, the only reason to see the movie is to watch a bunch of hot supermodels gyrating on the top of barstools -- which, if you've read this far, is exactly what I'm sure you want to see. This Blu-ray delivers very nice video and decent audio, plus a batch of dumb supplements that's unintentionally hilarious. I can't recommend 'Coyote Ugly' as more than a rental if you've never seen it before, but if you're a fan of high-def boobies 'n' beer, it's a must-own.