Reviewed by: Jane Fae

"The make-up team have clearly been told not to stint on the blood."

The emperor has no clothes.

No. That is not quite right. The emperor has no clothes and is currently parading himself up and down the town, brazenly waggling his private bits in the general direction of anyone who cares to look. But since it is all done ironically, with satirical intent, we are supposed to nod agreeably and pass by on the other side of the road.

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Thus The Simpsons. And American Dad. And Family Guy. And a host of American output in which satire has been progressively redefined from exaggerated humour used to expose social and political vice, into a format in which extreme and exaggerated have become the ultimate aim, with exposure of vice little more than fond afterthought.

Which brings us to Catfight which – you may have guessed already – I disliked intensely, both for its vacuity and for its gratuitous resort to woman-on-woman violence, touted as edgy but actually, ultimately, both pointless and excessive.

It is about two women, Veronica (Sandra Oh) and Ashley (Anne Heche), one-time college friends, now moved on and apart. Veronica is bullying mum, apprentice alcoholic and trophy wife to her increasingly dissatisfied – but wealthy - husband. Ashley is struggling artist, abusive mum and, alternating oochy-coochy-cuteness with tearing-strips-off-one-another fury, in a long-term lesbian relationship with partner Lisa (Alicia Silverstone).

Everyone is unhappy. Everyone is angry. But for some reason Veronica and Ashley are especially angry with one another. The whys and wherefores of this anger are never explicitly stated, beyond a hint that it may have something to do with a long ago falling out over Ashley's sexuality. No matter. A chance encounter at a New York party and an accident that most of us would have apologised profusely for and forgotten, turns into hammer-and-tongs, Tom And Jerry barefisted bloody pummelling.

It's the sort of cartoon violence that films for the boys – from Bond to xXx to Fast And Furious - have been doing since forever, only portrayed here in a curious halfway house sort of way. The sound and the sound effects are turned up loud, as punches land with a succession of awful squelching noises and the make-up team have clearly been told not to stint on the blood.

The result, however is a sort of pseudo-realism, pretending to show us real violence while ignoring the fact that, as per the boys' films, any one of the blows struck in these extended fight sequences could be fatal. The film proceeds in a series of episodes. Or rounds, each marked by an over loud soundtrack of classical greatest hits.

In the first two rounds, each of them suffers a catastrophic loss, leading to a turn around in their fortunes. There is, of course, one more episode, as the two of them finally come together to reminisce and bury the hatchet: the only question being whether they do so amicably or whether their visceral hatred will carry them, War Of The Roses style, into final mutual oblivion.

No spoilers. Though given what has gone before, it is possibly not hard to guess.

One of the more depressing aspects of this film is that no one, not Veronica's husband, or aunt or cleaner, nor Ashley's partner or daughter, nor the art critics have any obvious redeeming characteristics. They are all, every one, angry, vengeful, not very nice people.

The film contains two running jokes, presumably there to justify the satire tag. The first is a current affairs programme, which slowly documents the progress of a new US war in the Middle East, both backdrop to and motive force for developments within the film. The joke? That apart from the dubious humour of the presenter, the one bit of the show that everyone laughs along to is “the Fart machine” (Randy Gabill) who appears behind the presenter and proceeds to fart, loudly and at length.

The other? Jones the comatose doctor (Dylan Baker), whose role is to welcome back awakening patients before delivering the bad news, that in a post-Obamacare world, their coma has broken them financially.

Otherwise, despite the pretensions of director Onur Tukel, this is not satire, does not shine any sort of interesting light into women's relationships nor break ground in depicting women's violence not already well broken in by female mud wrestling. And if you hadn't already guessed, it needs to come with a large trigger warning – for bloody violence.

Reviewed on: 23 Feb 2017
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When two old college friends spend time together, their resentment of one another comes to the surface - and gets physical.
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Director: Onur Tukel

Writer: Onur Tukel

Starring: Sandra Oh, Anne Heche, Alicia Silverstone

Year: 2016

Runtime: 96 minutes

Country: US


Glasgow 2017

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