(R) 3 stars The Banger Sisters is about two little girls that lost their way. After living life to the utmost in the "60s, they are less than adept navigating the "00s, with one now a walking anachronism and the other a priggish wife and mother. When the pair meets for the first time since their glory days, sparks ignite in a film that is funny and likable despite poor editing, too many scenes dependent on convenience and an annoyingly pat ending.
In the counter-culture era, Suzette (Goldie Hawn) and Vinnie (Susan Sarandon) were groupies of legendary status, dubbed "The Banger Sisters" by no less than Frank Zappa himself. Music lovers and experts at the art of sex, the girls made it with everyone from Jim Morrison to Jimmy Page, snapping Polaroid "cock-shots" along the way. Any resemblance between The Banger Sisters and the real-life Plaster Casters, female Zappa associates famous for using plaster castings to make replicas of the hard-ons of various rock stars, is clearly intentional. Those days are long gone and the film opens with Suzette being fired from a bartending job at the Whiskey A-Go Go for insubordination. Bummed out and low on cash, she decides to leave Los Angeles and pay a visit to Vinnie in Phoenix, where she can get a morale boost and maybe some traveling money. Decked out in clothing now appropriate only in nightclubs and music videos, Suzette ends up panhandling for gas money at a truck stop, where she happens upon Harry (Geoffrey Rush), an extremely fussy man clutching an old fashioned typewriter to his chest. Desperate to get off the commercial bus he"s endured for hundreds of miles, the perpetually frowning gent offers to fill Suzette"s tank in exchange for a ride to Phoenix. Hawn and Rush make a fine comic odd couple, with Harry sexually attracted to Suzette while repulsed by her anything-goes approach to life. During their travels, she learns that he is a frustrated screenwriter who gave up sex a decade earlier. He is a man on a mission, he reveals while pulling a gun from his typewriter case with a flourish - he will use the one bullet to kill his father. Rather than responding with the horror expected of her, Suzette merely smiles and confidently states that Harry is incapable of killing anybody. When they reach Phoenix and he rents a hotel room, she cheerfully strides inside and joins him, despite his protestations. While the story structure may sound tedious, this section of the film plays well, due to the comic skills of Hawn and Rush. Her Suzette is the epitome of spontaneity and unrelenting optimism, while Rush"s Harry is a fascinating head case, an obsessive-compulsive gasbag filled with twitches and bad ideas. The banter between the two is often laugh-out-loud funny, as her verbal candor about sex and body functions continually leaves him hang-jawed. Also amusing are the ongoing exchanges between Suzette and a young hotel desk clerk (Kohl Sudduth) who always appears to be on duty when she turns up looking for Harry. With virtually no dialogue, Sudduth uses inspired expressions to draw laughs. His performance is a textbook example of how to take a teeny part and turn it into a showcase. Eventually, Suzette ends up at the home of Vinnie, excuse me - Lavinia, the uptight mother of uptight teen-agers Hannah (Erika Christensen) and Ginger (Eva Amurri, Sarandon"s real-life daughter) and wife to uptight aspiring politician Raymond (Robin Thomas, playing possibly the least-interesting husband in the history of film). Well-to-do, self-absorbed and extremely annoying, the family would be perfect for a Republican recruitment poster (Conservatives: address your angry e-mails email@example.com
), so when Suzette arrives, all hell breaks loose. As a comedy with a terrific rock soundtrack, The Banger Sisters works just fine. Hawn, Sarandon and Rush nail their characters and the others are serviceable comic foils. The sexually blunt dialogue is a refreshing change of pace from the sniggering stuff that passes as frankness in teen comedies. And the story serves as a tart reminder of how much fun this country was before we turned into a nation of constipated, security-seeking bores (again, that address firstname.lastname@example.org
). But this is a lazy movie. Writer/director Bob Dolman consistently settles for the easiest way through a scene, and the coincidences and instant-resolutions grow tiresome. Another draft or two of the script might have produced a film both humorous and poignant, but The Banger Sisters settles for simply being sitcom funny. Oh well, at least it"s an entertaining sitcom.