A young woman (Katharine Isabelle – American Mary, Torment, NBC’s Hannibal) wakes up in a diner with no idea who or where she is and after finding a gun in her backpack, she staggers from hint to hint in order to track down and kill the man who killed her lover. It’s a great idea and it looks fresh too, but April Mullen’s 88 is a complicated feature.
Unlike Stuart Simpson’s garage femsploitation trip Monstro!, 88 doesn’t give itself fully to silly ideas and pulpy lineage. Mullen appears wary of what outright camp can do to audience involvement in a solid story, but isn’t sure how far to push it. The story starts off pretty perfectly, nuanced and intriguing, Isabelle props the film up on her startlingly honest performance before switching to badass and hooking us in for a good time. Only, as the film starts to bend over backwards to accommodate its convoluted path, it becomes increasingly confusing.
88 isn’t interested in telling us its story in a linear way, but it’s also not that bothered about keeping us involved in the intricacies of its plot. Instead we’re emotionally hijacked by a superficial relationship and quietly asked to care for a typically handsome and dull love. Think of 88 as Romeo and Juliet meets Momento on the highway of bad taste. The fetishisation of milk, Isabelle’s often insane dialogue, and that red dress aren’t problems until the film starts taking itself too seriously. There’s fun to be had but some of the really heart-breaking scenes with Isabelle are boisterously undermined by how blasé and ridiculous the script demands her to be. Mullen herself pops up as an eccentric arms dealer, but it comes across as far too try-hard. When the film wastes time on dumb details, but can’t put together a convincing shoot-out, there needs to be a readdress of focus.
Isabelle grabs our attention and wrestles it into a firm headlock, her slinky femme fatale pissing a path through supermarkets, shooting her way through bowling alleys, and generally giving us more bang for our buck than we could ever have asked for. Christopher Lloyd seems somewhat out of place as possessive pimp Cyrus, never going for hammy, instead meeting Isabelle halfway for oddly touching character drama. 88 scribe Tim Doiron pops up as sidekick Ty but his zany dialogue and irritating performance are a surplus woe, adding unrequired childishness to an already silly film. Michael Ironside appears for a fantastic wee turn as a sympathetic cop and one can’t help but feel his storyline, and potential further involvement, could have been more interesting than the chosen path.
88 has frankly mad use of flashback that won’t be for everyone, but at its heart there’s a fun tale of revenge and memory loss fronted by an impressive scream queen. There’s something being held back in the punch, something that could have made things a little more solid, but Mullen’s road movie is still a blast.
Dir: April Mullen
Stars: Katharine Isabelle, Christopher Lloyd, Tim Doiran, Kyle Schmid, Michael Ironside