It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
The film stars Perabo as one of a group of heedless wenches who dance on a bar and pour straight shots down the throats of the seething multitude. In a movie of this sort, it is inevitable that the song "I Will Survive" will sooner or later be performed by drunken pals. Next week's opening, "The Replacements," makes us wait an hour to hear it. "Coyote Ugly" takes no chances and puts it under the opening titles. Do you get the feeling these movies are assembled from off-the-shelf parts? There is a story beloved in movie lore about the time Howard Hawks asked John Wayne to appear in "El Dorado." Wayne had already starred in Hawks' "Rio Bravo" and "Rio Lobo," which were essentially the same picture. So was "El Dorado." "Shall I send over the script?" asked Hawks. "Why bother?" asked the Duke. "I've already been in it twice." Does Jerry Bruckheimer have the same nagging feeling of deja vu as he compares each new screenplay to those that have gone before? I wonder if he suspects his movie may not be original, as he contemplates a story about a girl from New Jersey who dreams of being a songwriter, moves to Manhattan, meets a guy, gets a job and has a heart-rending reconciliation with her dad, all in a movie that ends (yes, it really does) with the final line, "What do you do when you realize all your dreams have come true?" Bruckheimer and his director bring superb technical credits to this wheezy old story, and they add wall-to-wall music to make it sound like fun. But you can pump up the volume only so far before it becomes noise. I don't ask for startling originality in a movie like "Coyote Ugly." I don't object to the scene in which the heroine and her guy neck in a convertible and regard the lights on a Manhattan bridge. I am not even surprised that the hero drives a classic car (no characters in Bruckheimer movies drive cars less than 25 years old unless they are parents or gangsters). I don't even mind the obligatory line, "It's payback time!" All I ask is that I be surprised a couple of times. Give me something I can't see coming and make it more unexpected than a beloved character getting hit by a car instead of having a heart attack.
In the movie, Perabo, who has big-time star power, plays Violet, a working-class girl from South Amboy, N.J., who packs up and moves to a cheap apartment in Chinatown (where she meets not a single Chinese person) and gets a job in Coyote Ugly, a bar that would be the result if you took the bar in "Cocktail" and performed reckless experiments on its DNA.
It's the kind of bar you would fight to get out of--and you'd have to. Customers are jammed so tightly together, the fire marshal can barely wedge his way into the room. They are offered no mixed drinks, no wine, just "Jim, Jack, Johnny Red, Johnny Black and Jose--all my favorite friends," according to Lil (Maria Bello), the sexy blonde who owns the club. "You can have it any way you want it, as long as it's in a shot glass." Violet auditions for her job, which consists of dancing on top of the bar, pouring drinks, dumping ice on customers who get into fights and spraying the others every so often with the soda gun. These are skilled dancers. They can do Broadway routines on a slippery bar top, while drunks grab at their ankles. Every once in a while, just for variety, they pour booze on the bar and set it on fire.