Is Girls Against Boys a B-movie that tries to redeem its exploitation elements by couching them as arty feminist critique, or is it a comment on mass-media gender roles that inadvertently evolved into a tawdry, leaden thriller? Given that the résumé of writer-director Austin Chick includes the serious-minded, barely released indie dramas XX/XY and August, both interpretations are plausible, though neither excuses the film’s tediousness, or gall. Danielle Panabaker stars in Girls Against Boys as a college student who gets dumped by her married, middle-aged boyfriend, and then goes clubbing to forget her troubles, only to get raped by a guy she picks up. When she goes to her ex for help, he almost rapes her. When she goes to the police, the cop at the front desk shrugs, “Well, you look fine to me.” So Panabaker turns to her strange new friend Nicole LaLiberte, who urges her on to a killing spree against all the men who’ve wronged her—including a few who’ve just looked at her the wrong way. Stretch all that out to 90 minutes, and that’s the movie.
LaLiberte is the best thing about Girls Against Boys. She has an unforced coolness, even when Chick sticks her with sub-Quentin Tarantino business, like having a conversation about the nutritional value of Captain Crunch, or singing along to not one, but two Donovan songs. Otherwise, though, Girls Against Boys is undone by Chick’s apparent supposition that he’s the first filmmaker to notice how men sometimes take advantage of women, or how putting a gun in an actress’ hands can be a complicated symbol of empowerment. Chick isn’t exactly subtle about his larger themes, either. He has Panabaker taking a class with a women’s-studies professor who talks about depictions of women in media, and Chick also throws in multiple shots of his heroines eating big meals, or sitting on the toilet, as though he’s slyly subverting expectations about how women should behave onscreen. Girls Against Boys perks up when Panabaker makes a date with a nice, non-wolfish classmate, and it appears for a moment that Chick is going to make this a film about sisterly betrayal, and the limits of violent rebellion. But the movie quickly settles back into its usual muddle, returning to its turgid pace and its long, not-as-meaningful-as-Chick-may-think takes of Panabaker’s expressionless face.