Girls In Prison

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Girls In Prison

In 1994, Showtime's Rebel Highway series gave a handful of quirky filmmakers an opportunity to make low-budget movies based on titles taken from American International Pictures' sizable library of teen-oriented drive-in movies from the '50s. For his contribution, director John McNaughton (Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer, Wild Things) handed the screenwriting duties off to legendary cult filmmaker Samuel Fuller, whose script, co-written by wife Christa Lang, turned out to be the last the filmmaker would write before his death. Unfortunately, Fuller's swan song is a leaden, mirthless exercise in excruciating self-parody. Missy Crider stars in Girls In Prison as a songwriter framed for murder by a scheming, bisexual femme fatale (Anne Heche) and sent to prison, where she quickly learns to adapt to the brutality of prison life. As its title and premise imply, Girls In Prison is clearly intended as a campy, over-the-top romp, but McNaughton never gets a grasp on his material. Whereas Roadracers, Robert Rodriguez's enormously entertaining Rebel Highway film, treated its source material with a lighthearted, giddy irreverence, McNaughton's entry is strangely glum, solemn, and slow-paced. Even the film's ostensible setpieces—catfights, prison riots, and a last-minute confession broadcast via megaphone to the entire prison yard—feel static and lifeless. McNaughton's directorial style, a sort of bleak sociological distance that suggests a mixture of Fuller and Stanley Kubrick, has suited him well in films like Henry and Normal Life, in which he was able to wring psychological depth out of tabloid material. Its dour ruthlessness, however, is not suited to Girls In Prison at all. Of the actors, only Heche seems to grasp the inherent absurdity of the proceedings. She gives a funny, engaging performance which is, unfortunately, about all Girls In Prison has going for it.