Barb Wire (1996) Review

Rating: 1 Star

The following review contains spoilers.


It’s very embarrassing to admit that I watched this movie. The first time we see Pamela Anderson’s Barb Wire she’s writhing topless on a nightclub stage while being sprayed with a hose, and this continues for minutes. The entire project from the movie’s poster on down seems to exist entirely to remind you that Anderson has large breasts. They are constantly on display and other characters are constantly discussing them. It’s baffling that this movie was actually released in theaters.

Even more baffling is that this is a remake of Casablanca. It took me a while to pick up on it, but around the seventh time Barb Wire declares her neutrality in the war, it finally clicked: Barb Wire was a former freedom fighter, now disillusioned, who runs a popular nightclub in the neutral zone. There are a set of advanced contact lenses that allows one to pass freely through the retinal scanners at checkpoints, and Barb’s old flame (with new spouse in tow) needs them in order to escape and do some vaguely great deed for the resistance. The bad guys are searching for the lenses, with the aid of a corrupt police chief, though the chief gradually comes around to the side of the angels. It all ends at an airport where Barb gives the lenses to the resistance and walks off with the police chief, love for freedom renewed, I guess.

Yes, they took one of the most beloved movies of all time and used it as the basis for their Pamela Anderson “star” vehicle, and, shockingly, they botched it real, real bad.

Best Parts:

It’s darkly amusing to watch a movie that takes in place in 2017, during the second American Civil War, in which an authoritarian regime with Nazi-leanings has taken control of the United States.

Xander Berkeley is pretty good as the corrupt police chief, but I may only think that because I’m comparing him to every other performance, which are all uniformly terrible.

The final action scenes are shockingly pretty decent. Axel’s fist fight on top of a spinning crane looks cool. Later when the crane is used to pick up a forklift/motorcycle/car that have been wedged together, with Barb and the Colonel fighting on top of them, all suspended over the harbor, it looks kind of neat.

Worst Parts:

It’s like if the 1990s became sentient and made a movie. Every lame style choice, every lame guitar riff, and every lame obsession with Pamela Anderson, all crammed together in one awful package.

You would think that simply aping Casablanca would lead to a movie that at least flowed and made some kind of sense, but sadly no. Barb Wire is incredibly dull and has no internal logic. Barb Wire’s club, Hammerhead, is perpetually packed with huge lines waiting outside, but she’s so broke she can’t make payroll unless she works as a mercenary/bounty hunter on the side. Every job naturally involves posing as either a stripper or a prostitute. Also, despite regularly needing to go undercover for her side jobs, we’re also constantly reminded of how famous she is, and how much everyone fears, respects, and lusts after her.

There’s a bizarre emphasis on Dr. Corrina Devonshire, the person who needs the contact lenses to escape, being called “Cora D”, which is regularly brought up and denounced at the same time by the head Nazi. When we finally learn why Devonshire is important, it’s because she has secret information yet to be disseminated to anyone (about a new strain of government-developed HIV that has nothing to do with the rest of the plot), so it’s unclear how she became a legendary figure in the resistance or who gave her this nickname.

Virtually all of the acting is bad, but boy did I cringe whenever Barb’s brother Charlie was on screen. He looks like the lovechild of Johnny Lang and Kato Kaelin and he’s always smirking. So, again, this movie is the 90s.

“Don’t call me babe!”

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