Sara, who has just lost her job and college scholarship, becomes romantically entangled with Alex, an enigmatic and privileged young woman she meets one night by chance. Or was it? Both girls have someone in their lives they would like to be rid of, and Alex hatches the plan that they should “trade” homicides. She will kill the classmate who directly caused Sara’s financial woes, and Sara in turn will murder Alex’s overbearing and haughty stepmother. Sara, however, is horrified as what she perceived to be idle pillow talk becomes all too real when Alex fulfills her end of the bargain and expects the favor to be returned.
It was painfully daunting to type a synopsis for this plodding little potboiler without summing it up in one incomplete sentence: “Strangers on a Train” with hot chicks. Unfortunately, that abbreviated description makes the film seem so much more intriguing than what actually unfolds on the screen in its duration. Still, it must have been a brilliant pitch to an unsuspecting producer, which makes me wonder what other classics could be name-dropped with the same gimmicky tagline: “Twelve Angry Men” with hot chicks! “The Shawshank Redemption” with hot chicks! This hypothetical list is endless and pointless to ponder, absolutely inconsequential to the topic at hand. Thus, I forge on:
There have been many different variations on Hitchcock’s brilliant and innovative chestnut, from the deplorable TV remake “Once You Meet a Stranger” (also a gender reversal of the original) to Danny DeVito’s sublime dark comedy “Throw Momma From the Train.” All have one common denominator, thanks to the author of the novel that inspired them, Patricia Highsmith. Two unconnected individuals meet, become acquainted, and hatch a plan to trade murders. It’s a perfect crime, since neither has any fathomable motive to kill the other’s nemesis. One of these two embroiled players has a lapse of conscious and cannot go through with the insidious plot, while his or her counterpart is stark raving bonkers, stepping up to challenge before the rational “this is not a good idea” discussion can occur. The only variation on this basic notion is the aforementioned DeVito flick, which turned a clever trick by keeping the dynamic intact while at the same time making both characters sympathetic and innocent.
Sara, a scholarship student working her way through an unnamed California college as a bartender, meets up with rich girl Alex on the same night she is fired for stealing from the tip jar. This also costs her the funding she needs for her housing, thanks to Brooke, who sees her pocket the cash and is jealous because her boyfriend Eric obviously fancies Sara over her. Sara and Alex share similar pasts in that their mothers both died mysteriously, for reasons you will probably forget that you even remotely cared about until the film reminds you that you’re supposed to in the final third. Alex despises Nina, her father’s token rebound wife. Blah blah blah, insert “Strangers on a Train” plot here. The movie, to its credit, meanders its way to this crux of the story by gifting the viewing audience with a heavy dose of artfully lit and photographed girl-on-girl action. By “action,” I mean “kissing.” And by “kissing,” I mean “inaction,” because the relationship between Sara and Alex is merely an excuse to place a couple of sexy stills on the DVD case in hopes that men (or women, I don’t judge) will be titillated into renting it. Apparently, the filmmakers are not aware of the Internet.
Once the familiar plan is set into gear, “Breaking the Girls” actually does pick up a decent head of steam. Alex, impetuous and seemingly in love with Sara, strangles Brooke in a pool before Sara can even utter the words, “Hey, we were just joking about that whole murdering people deal, right?” Not the case, as Alex had taken precautions to insure and enforce Sara’s commitment to the agreement. The film takes the reins over from Hitchcock and Highsmith at that point. I am not at liberty to state much more in way of the path taken from that juncture, if but for an abject fear of being that guy who types “SPOILER ALERT!” in caps with the slammer before spilling the beans. Though the deceptions and double crosses that keep the story twisting in Act II are convoluted at best and mostly ridiculous, they have a freewheeling, “Wild Things” quality that lifts the material above the usual apery these brand of films tend to display from start to finish. I wish I could say that it will keep you guessing, but trust me when I tell you that this is a fruitless endeavor. Like “Wild Things,” it feels as if everyone involved is making it up as they go along. Not fair, but fun.
Director Jamie Babbit, who helmed the brilliantly subversive “But I’m a Cheerleader” in 1999, does an impeccable job with the material at hand here, though it’s fairly obvious she has spent a great deal of time solely in television since that minor cult classic made its debut. On a side note, she started her career in the boob tube business with the MTV soft core soap opera “Undressed,” which this movie feels very similar to at times. The cast, led by Agnes (I love her just for that first name) Bruckner and Madeline Zima as Sara and Alex, is serviceable and certainly easy on the eyes. The one standout of note is Davenia McFadden, who brings a world-weary warmth to the role of Detective Ross. John Stockwell (“Christine”) and Melanie Mayron (“thirtysomething”) both show up in forgettable roles, if only to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are indeed still breathing.
There is absolutely no reason to recommend “Breaking the Girls,” unless you happen to be attracted to women who are attracted to women and you’re unaware of any other website save this one. It is merely a passable diversion on an evening when television has nothing better to offer, or you find yourself in the mood for a misguided, modern take on a classic piece of celluloid. Would Hitchcock roll that portly body of his in its grave if he saw “Breaking the Girls”? I highly doubt it. Let us not forget, he was the man who stated, “It’s only a movie, and, after all, we’re all grossly overpaid.” He’d probably even deem this review too critical, bless him.
Breaking the Girls (2012)