I cast my mind back to my 14-year-old self living in the year 1997, going to school, coming home, listening to Steve Lamacq and John Peel on the radio, playing Nintendo 64 games with friends and watching any VHS we could get our hands on with an 18 certificate. Among the most beloved of these movies at the time (and the 90’s was a generous decade for adult-rated thrillers) were Desperado and From Dusk ‘Til Dawn; a Robert Rodriguez double-bill of tough guys, gunfire and Salma Hayek. To our adolescent, hormonal minds, her bounding cleavage was the epitome of sexual desire. At 14 years old, those movies were pretty much the best.
In Charlie Brooker’s TV Go Home – a fake TV listings that began as a website and spawned a printed publication – he pokes fun at our teenage sensibilities by listing the fictional flick Tough As Fuck, describing it as, “Blockbuster action movie conceived and written by a panel of hormone-addled 14-year-old boys. Unconventionally violent police sergeant John Fuck finds himself on the trail of a ruthless gang of nude female criminals who unwind between heists by jumping around on a trampoline.” Brooker suggests this movie might star Pamela Anderson. Our 14 year-old selves would’ve taken that. We’d have preferred Salma Hayek.
Now, 18 years later as we check our receding hairlines and gaze ruefully at our paunches, the movie of our teenage dreams has finally arrived, and it still stars Salma Hayek. Everly might eschew the narrative blueprint laid down by Brooker, but this is essentially the bouncing-titty gun-porn action picture we always wanted. Trouble is, we’re adults now. This exploitative trash is beneath us these days… right?
After more production company idents than I think I’ve ever seen fronting one picture, we career straight into the action as Everly (Hayek) crawls naked across a bathroom floor, slips into a skimpy nightie and retrieves a gun and cell phone from inside the cistern. Some bad dudes pound on the door and Everly readies herself to commit suicide. Instead she wastes all the yakuza guys in the adjoining apartment (where we’ll spend the next 90 minutes), getting shot in the process. A phone call fills in some blanks; she’s a prostitute; some bad dude (evidently her pimp) is threatening to kidnap her daughter and her detective friend has been Gwenyth Paltrow’d. But fear not, for this pining mother and prostitute is a one-woman army, apparently savvy in any and all weaponry, and about to take on whatever’s coming her way. All the while, director Joe Lynch ensures we have a decent view of Hayek’s quivering breasts. Admit it, guys, you’ve already opened a second window and you’re loading up Pirate Bay.
Except you’re not. Because you don’t do that. You’re better than that. You appreciate that the arts require funding and that ticket sales contribute to that. Besides, you wouldn’t be ashamed to turn up to a movie like this, right? Right?
Truth is, there is a guilty pleasure element to Everly, at least at first. Lynch (who’s most recognisable prior credit is for, umm, Wrong Turn 2: Dead End) acknowledges the utter ridiculousness of this overblown high-concept little B-flick and so plays it frequently for high-camp (the drink with the bendy-straw; the jazzy Christmas songs; the Bitch Slap-esque brigade of angry fellow whores). Very quickly it becomes apparent that Everly’s real-time survival campaign is going to be an exceptionally silly affair. Approach it on those terms (and with some beers already in you) and you may have a passable time. Much like last year’s Lucy, this is an exceptionally dumb movie which pretends very loosely to be smarter than it is.
We’re more pointedly in exploitation territory here though. After allowing Hayek a wardrobe change and dabbling half-heartedly with torture porn, the film reaches its ecstatic moment of excess by setting off the sprinklers. Everly’s not just a beautiful big-breasted woman with guns; she’s now a wet big-breasted woman with guns. Like a Playboy video centrefold sponsored by Guns N Ammo two decades too late. And with that in mind Everly fails because, simply, this shit’s gotten too old now. We’ve all learned better. Don’t get me wrong, I have a soft spot for the old classics of the genre (Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! has pride of place in my ‘Why I Love…’ series), but part of what makes them interesting is the context of when they were made. They’re indicative of the sensibilities of their time, however misguided. Recent homages to grindhouse and exploitation flicks have almost all fallen flat because, culturally speaking, we’ve rightfully moved on. So it goes here. Everly feels like a throwback and not a particularly welcome one.
Credit to Hayek who goes at this with gusto. It’s great to see her on screen again, something which has seemed all-too-rare since her Best Actress-worthy turn as Frida Kahlo back in 2002. She makes this unoriginal mishmash surprisingly engaging, approaching the corny dialogue with just the right amount of deadpan and throwing herself into the physically demanding work. For the record, she also appears to be one of those miraculous people for whom time holds no sway. Somewhere there’s a weathered portrait of her, ala Dorian Gray. Ordinarily I wouldn’t bring this up, but Everly trades on her physique openly, making it strangely pertinent.
The film’s second half sees tedium setting in. With precious little characterisation or subtlety, Everly’s arc is merely to suffer, and so the story gets bogged down with the different ways she can absorb pain before getting her vengeance. It’s all a little tired, and reveals Everly as a film particularly lacking in imagination. I’m all for kick-ass heroines (You’re Next‘s Erin is a modern high-water mark), but there’s a mean-spirited undercurrent to what Everly has to endure (including a brief rape substitution) that feels misogynistic, hateful. By the time we reach the end the fun’s been well and truly squeezed out of this batty concept.
You already know this is a bad movie. You don’t need me to tell you. It’s obviously a bad movie. What remains for you to decide is how much disappointment you’re willing to put up with just for a few new shots of Salma Hayek’s knockers clanging together. She deserves better than this. You deserve better than this. The 14-year-old boys, meanwhile, will probably love it.