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Movie Review : Parody Fails In 'Reform School Girls'

August 29, 1986|PATRICK GOLDSTEIN

Don't let the cartoonlike ads for "Reform School Girls" (citywide) fool you. The movie has been billed as an outlandish sendup of the women-behind-bars genre, but that's just wishful thinking--or part of the movie's cynical hype. "Girls" is far too feeble to qualify as a raunchy prison parody. It's more of a brainless homage, in the clunky way that "Rambo" and "Missing in Action" paid tribute to "The Green Berets."

Perhaps if the film's producer, Jack Cummins, had had a hand in the script things would have turned out differently, since his remarks in the production notes show a wonderful flair for comedy. He insisted that the film isn't just "another trashy 'B' movie," saying "what we're attempting to do here is to exploit exploitation." Noting that the movie's production crew was largely female, Cummins added, "It's pretty hard to do straight exploitation with all those women around you."

Somehow the film makers succeeded. If you've seen any past efforts in this genre (our favorite remains "Caged Heat") you'll recognize all the usual suspects. Jenny (Linda Carol) is the virtuous, beautiful lass who stands up for her rights. Lisa (Sherri Stoner) is on hand as a frail, traumatized victim of the cruel prison system. And, of course, there are a colorful crop of villains, led by the hulking Edna (Pat Ast), the sadistic, butch Head Matron; Charlie (Wendy O. Williams), a one-woman motorcycle gang who rules the cell block, and Sutter (Sybil Danning), the corrupt, power-crazed warden.

That should tell you all you need to know about the merits of the story. Writer-director Tom DeSimone seems to have devoted most of his brainpower to devising as many scenes as possible where the teen-age girls can romp around without any clothes. Even when dressed, they are most frequently shown wearing flimsy nightgowns, spiked earrings and push-up bras, as if the reform school had somehow gotten its uniforms on sale from Trashy Lingerie.

What really makes the movie such a fiasco is that we could've dreamed up a goofier spoof on our way out of the theater. It would've been far more outrageous to cast Divine in Pat Ast's role, so he could rumble down the prison halls, accompanied by a nerdy crew of scrawny, bespectacled male guards, all as fearful of the Head Matron's wrath as the inmates. The predictable strip-teases, torture scenes and food fights would go too, replaced by a sequence where the scantily clad girls pull off a daring escape, only to find themselves trapped on an exploitation studio lot, run by a fiendish producer who promises to clear their name in return for 15 days' work in his new epic, "Bad Girls Behind Bars. . . ."

Needless to say, we didn't spot any promising new talent in all this rubble. In fact, the predominantly female cast seems to have been chosen more for their profiles than their personalities. "Reform School Girls" (rated-R as in 'are you ready for another shower scene') is so witless that its funniest line comes from the ad campaign. "So young . . . so bad . . . so what?" So what, indeed.

'REFORM SCHOOL GIRLS'

A New World Pictures release. Producer Jack Cummins. Director Tom DeSimone. Writer DeSimone. Camera Howard Wexler. Editor Michael Spence. Art Director Becky Block. Music Supervisor Martin Schwartz. With Linda Carol, Wendy O. Williams, Pat Ast, Sybil Danning, Charlotte McGinnis, Sherri Stoner, Denise Gordy, Laurie Schwartz and Tiffany Helm.

Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes.

MPAA rating: R (Under 17 requires an accompanying parent or adult guardian.)

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