Director - Annette Haywood-Carter
Starring - Angelina Jolie, Hedy Burress
You can't miss "Legs." Near the beginning of this filmed-in-Portland female-bonding drama, the camera ostentatiously shows only her legs as she hops out of a car and strides in the rain to a high school she doesn't attend.
"Young man, stop when I'm talking to you," says a hall guard, instantly acknowledging her androgynous threat while failing to recognize her sex. Gradually we see more of her as she wanders into a biology class and frees a tied-up frog as well as several oppressed students, including the budding-feminist heroine, Maddy.
Everything this forceful outsider does is mythic and bold and liberating, and Angelina Jolie, whose bee-stung lips and haughty stare finally make their appearance as the camera reveals her face, has the larger-than-life confidence to play her.
She's the best thing about this slick 1990s update of Joyce Carol Oates' novel, which was set in New England in the 1950s. As Jolie plays her, Legs may arrive with a lot of emotional baggage (an absent father, a mother who died drunk in a car crash), but she hides it well, emphasizing instead her empathy with Maddy and her acquaintances, who become friends under Legs' leadership.
Parts of the rest of the movie seem archaic, especially the tied-up frog bit, which was fresher in E.T., and the melodrama of the final scenes, which look like a labored attempt to create a feminist version of Rebel Without a Cause. Once a loaded gun and an unlikely kidnapping are introduced into the plot, the characters are diminished.
But for a while they're front-and-center, and Legs' impact on their lives is exhilarating. She shows Rita (Jenny Lewis) how to fight back at the teacher (John Diehl) who's been molesting her, and to gain a few friends in the process. She encourages straight-arrow Maddy (Hedy Burress) to act on her feelings, she questions the promiscuous Violet (Sarah Rosenberg) and she tries to save the group's committed drug addict, Goldie (Jenny Shimizu).
Maddy's sensitive boyfriend, Ethan (Peter Facinelli), feels shut out as the girls bond, and so do Maddy's mother (Cathy Moriarty), Goldie's father (Chris Mulkey), the accused teacher's jock defender (Dash Mihok), and his cheerleader girlfriend (Michelle Brockhurst). The relationships grow so intense, as the girls share a joint, tattoo each other and announce their devotion to each other as they hang out at an abandoned house, that their enemies start to envy the group they ridicule as "girls who run with foxes."
For all the wrong turns the script takes during its final third, the last moments between Legs and Maddy restore much of this early intimacy. Jolie in particular registers such a startling range of emotions that you'll feel compelled to stay in your seat after her last scene, watching the lengthy roll of credits to the end.