A scene from 'High Heels & Low Lifes'
Courtesy Photo
** stars 86 minutes | Rated: R
Opened: Friday, October 26, 2001 (SF)
Directed by Mel Smith

Starring Minnie Driver, Mary McCormack, Kevin McNally, Mark Williams, Danny Dyer, Michael Gambon, James Cameron (uncredited)


Antic girl-buddy movies survive small screen shrinkage pretty well I've found. Can't explain it.

   VIDEO RELEASE: 04.09.2002


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Girlfriends blackmail bank robbers in sometimes funny, mostly feeble female buddy comedy 'High Heels'

By Rob Blackwelder

I have two things I need to get off my chest right off the bat about "High Heels and Low Lifes." The first is, I'm dumbfounded that nobody at Hollywood Pictures was bright enough to catch and correct the grammatically erroneous title. Call it a pet peeve, but "Lowlifes" is one word, for cryin' out loud.

The second is, despite the fact that I'm about to rip into this picture for its non-stop, intelligence-insulting assault of idiotic clichés, plot holes, predictability and common sense chasms, "High Heels" has such an infectious, lively spirit that I wish it could have been better.

Minnie Driver and Mary McCormack play ditzy post-feminist pals living in London, who inadvertently overhear the coordination of a overnight bank heist on surveillance equipment belonging to Driver's lousy live-in boyfriend. (He's a wannabe avant-garde artist working on an "urban noise symphony" that includes snippets of intercepted cell phone calls.)

After trying to do the right thing and being blown off by the police, our heroines get the bright idea to blackmail the criminals. They call the cell phone number they intercepted, pretending to be Cockney toughs and demanding a piece of the action. Of course, the amateurish extortion soon goes awry with botched money drops, double-crosses and break-ins. But the more dangerous their scam gets, the more Driver and McCormack dig in, determined to persevere against the crooks.

Just why they dig in is one of the movie's innumerable weak and/or ridiculous elements. In lame screenplay shorthand for garnering character sympathy, Driver plays a nurse who wants to use her part of the booty to buy a defibrillator for her hospital. Puh-leaze! McCormack's motives are more honestly greedy, but her behavior makes no more sense. After almost getting killed because they simply don't know what they're doing, she ups the ante, demanding more money just so the plot can keep moving.

"High Heels" has a spunky spirit, demographically targeted at gal pals who like to high-five each other at the movies. Driver (doing a disappointingly generic English Everygirl) and McCormack (as a brassy-trashy-sexy American) seem to be enjoying themselves immensely, as director Mel Smith ("Bean") aims for a more wholesome, lip-glossed version of the techno-driven vitality in grimy English crime flicks like "Trainspotting" or "Snatch."

But the picture trips again and again over its protruding contrivances, like the feeble reasons screenwriter Kim Fuller ("Spice World") comes up with to keep the women from dropping their scheme after it keeps failing, and just getting on with life. "Well, we're involved now, aren't we?" and "Forget the police, we're gonna get these bastards ourselves" are apparently the best he can do.

The bad guys are even less credible. The mastermind behind the bank job is a vaguely criminal multi-millionaire who green-lights a plan to "agree to pay, arrange the drop, flush them out in the open, then kill them" -- after they already did exactly that once before and botched it miserably. He also keeps his safe unlocked and his wall-mounted, museum-like display of machine guns fully loaded.

Seeking any excuse for comedic set piece, Driver and McCormack launch into slapstick jiggles while they ineptly fire those loaded guns. Earlier they play "good cop, bad cop" with a nightclub owner -- who is inexplicably intimidated by two 115-lb. pretty things even though he's surrounded by 250-lb. bodyguards.

The movie's incidental laughs are far more genuine, like the fact that by day nurse Driver ends up treating the wounds of everyone that gets shot in her wake at night. But while the sprightly energy and its occasional spark of creativity (a jazzy montage sequence subdivides the screen as the women prepare for their last big blackmail attempt) draws a few smiles, "High Heels & Low Lifes" just feels phony on every level. It's more a ride at an estrogen empowerment amusement park than it is a viable idea for a motion picture.


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