Clint Eastwood and Kevin Costner, two mere actors, created intelligent and entertaining Westerns ("Unforgiven" and "Dances with Wolves", respectively) which went on to garner accolades aplenty, including the Oscar for Best Picture. So, goes the logic, a real director like Jonathan Kaplan ("Unlawful Entry", "The Accused"), should be able to produce a Western at least as good and probably better. Problem is that logic and filmmaking have rarely gone hand-in-hand. "Bad Girls", a film about four women who decide to forsake their immoral past for a pioneering future, is a wretched entry in the momentarily revived genre.
As the story begins, Cody Zamora (Madeleine Stowe), Anita Crown (Mary Stuart Masterson), Eileen Spenser (Andie MacDowell), and Lilly Laronette (Drew Barrymore) are a quartet of happy-go- lucky whores in a small Texas town circa the 1890's. Their freewheeling days end the minute that Cody shoots a customer who has gotten out of hand. Rescued from hanging by her three compatriots, Cody becomes the unofficial leader of this ragtag band of women.
Wisely clearing out of town, they head towards the Oregon territory where Anita has a claim on over 600 acres of land. Their plan is to start up a sawmill in the burgeoning area, with the four of them as co-proprietors. All they need to get started is the $12,000 that Cody has wired over the years to a bank in a neighboring town. Unfortunately, two things happen as she is in the process of withdrawing the money. One is that a pair of Pinkerton detectives, hired by the deceased man's widow, have just caught up with the female fugitives. The other is the arrival of Cody's old flame Kid Jarrett (James Russo) and his band of outlaws. Jarrett, in one of the many contrivances that mar the film, starts to rob the bank while Cody is in the middle of her transaction.
At first graciously allowing Cody to keep her wad of bills, Jarrett later takes the stash as his way of inviting her to visit him at his hacienda. Left with few options, she follows his lead. The leads to a battle of the wills, bloody at times, that envelops the rest of the film. Josh McCoy (Dermot Mulroney), a studly, young prospector wronged by the Kid, and William Tucker (James LeGros), a handsome, young cattle rancher who allows the ladies to stay on his spread, are the film's romantic interests.
Each of the film's lead actress have occasion to embarrass themselves in "Bad Girls" with cheesy, melodramatic acting, except for Madeleine Stowe. As the film's anchor she delivers a fine performance, easily outclassing the cliched storytelling. But not even she escapes the film's hopelessly corny ending unscathed.
Two individual shots during the film's ambush scene are representative of the problems plaguing "Bad Girls". The first finds Lilly jumping out of the bushes for no apparent reason and consequently becoming a captive of the Kid. Such convenient gaps in the film's logic are both rampant and unforgivable. The other shot is a tilted, low-angle camera view looking up from a wounded man to the man who shot him. It's a good-looking, classic film shot which is, accordingly, completely out of place in such an inferior Western romp.