½*/**** Image A Sound A Extras C+
starring Minnie Driver, Mary McCormack, Kevin McNally, Mark Williams
screenplay by Kim Fuller
directed by Mel Smith
by Walter Chaw Mel Smith's feminist crime farce High Heels and Low Lifes blares Aretha Franklin and the Eurythmics' "Sisters are Doin' It For Themselves" over its closing credits, always a bad sign. Trying desperately to combine the only two types of British films that have seen commercial success in the last decade (the gangster farce and the Jane Austen empowerment fable), this product from the director of Bean and the screenwriter of Spice World is so rote that its frantic attempts at good natured quirk come off as grotesque and uncomfortable.
High Heels and Low Lifes is low-rent in every aspect, from screenplay to hyper-edited montage direction to a score and soundtrack so badly chosen and utilized that the meanings of several scenes are actually contradicted by their musical underpinnings. That the film is bearable at all in the face of a plot entirely reliant on screamingly stupid behaviour (and the damning theory that a woman's strength comes from a man's debasement) is a product of the considerable appeal of its stars, Minnie Driver and Mary McCormack.
Very proper British nurse Shannon (Driver) is best pals with struggling actress and scatterbrained Yank Frances (McCormack). When Shannon's loser boyfriend Ray (Darren Boyd) ditches Shannon on her birthday, she and Frances go clubbing, stumbling home late to accidentally overhear thieves speaking on their cell phones while breaking into a bank. Steadfastly refusing to do the sensible thing and go to the police--even after people start getting killed--our madcap pair try to extort a large sum of money from bumbling Danny (Danny Dyer), vicious Mason (Kevin McNally), and snarling godfather Kerrigan (Michael Gambon).
High Heels and Low Lifes has what Roger Ebert would call an "idiot plot": a story so asinine that it would be over as soon as one character said the right thing. There's no good reason for Shannon and Frances to be uncooperative with law enforcement, there's no clear explanation for how their aims are possibly achieved (nor how they can justify their complicity in the escalating mayhem, including the shooting of an entirely innocent man), and there is nary a moment that seems anything but convenient and banal.
High Heels and Low Lifes' low-rent aspirations would be far more palatable if not for the film's dedication to painting men as either lowlife thugs or bumbling morons. It's unacceptable when women are used in this way and it's not somehow more acceptable to demean men. The instinct to portray the opposite sex as something less than human and as objects of derision or amusement is hateful, and I would argue that it's intensely distasteful in a film portraying itself as a light action comedy.
Above it all, however, Driver's acute comic timing and McCormack's engaging charisma manage to smooth a few of the rough edges and temporarily distract from the catastrophically dull spectacle unfolding behind them. There are a few dialogue stings that hit the mark, and many will find some clumsy humour in the obvious Freudian symbolism behind arming a grown man with a Derringer, but High Heels and Low Lifes is destined to be memorable for its ill-fated idea to re-imagine Thelma & Louise as a loose screwball farce. Originally published: October 26, 2001.
by Bill Chambers Touchstone's DVD release of High Heels and Low Lifes features a surprisingly slick--and brilliant--1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer of the low-budget film with thumpin', jumpin' 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, which made sitting through this shrill, tired caper a little bit easier. Extras include the 20-minute "Low Lifes & High Heels", a two-part making-of that first covers the bad guys and then moves on to discussion of and interviews with the female leads; neither Driver and McCormack nor the remaining participants have much to say beyond observations of the "My character is..." variety. Far meatier is the feature-length commentary from director Smith and screenwriter Kim Fuller (a man) in which they relive every gory detail of the weather-plagued shoot for our benefit. A superfluous 2-minute montage of the action-oriented scenes ("Action Overload"), plus trailers for Corky Romano, Grosse Pointe Blank, Mystery, Alaska, and Serindipity (sic) round out the disc. Originally published: May 7, 2002.