The latest paint-by-numbers cinematic mind-number from uber-slick schlock producer Jerry Bruckheimer ("Gone in 60 Seconds," "Armageddon," "Con Air," etc.), "Coyote Ugly" is can be summed up in three words: "Flashdance" meets "Cocktail."
Piper Perabo ("The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle") -- a wide-eyed, bee-stung beauty from central casting -- is the movie's generic ingenue, a girl named Violet from small town New Jersey who moves to New York to pursue her dreams of being a songwriter for "Whitney, Mariah, whoever..." Of course, even though she grew up just down the turnpike from Manhattan, she's as naive as a farmer's daughter and learns the hard way that peddling your demo tape to snide receptionists at record label offices isn't going to get you anywhere in the Big City.
So instead of becoming an instant music biz success, Violet finds herself working at the meat packing district's wildest road house, Coyote Ugly.
Staffed by 102-lb. sexpots who habitually shake their stuff atop the bar in size two leather pants and titty-hugging tank tops, the joint is packed wall-to-wall every night with hooting, drooling patrons that the girls tease like pole-dancers to coax drinks into them and money out of them.
Written in Screenwriting 101 style, packed with every New York City cliché in the book (her dank, dingy flat is broken into her first week in town), and overflowing with sexy young things in WonderBras who grind against each other while dancing, the first half of "Coyote Ugly" plays like it was penned by a 13-year-old boy who just discovered masturbation.For the second half, the script must have been handed off to a 13-year-old girl who thinks Britney Spears is the greatest musical talent the world has ever known, because the rest of the movie is launched by a "Face it dad, I'm not your little girl anymore" speech and built around Violet overcoming stage fright and chasing her dream of selling bubble-gum pop songs -- aided, of course, by the charming encouragement of a handsome boy (Australian actor Adam Garcia) who just knows she can do it!
And yes, Violet sings. A lot. It's an endless source of unintentional comedy because when she's slinking across the bar at Coyote Ugly, singing along to the jukebox (each Coyote girl has a gimmick, that's hers), Perabo warbles in her own, weak and gritty voice. But when belting out one of the acoustic Lilith Faire-lite ditties she hopes to sell some day, suddenly she's a honey-voiced songbird, courtesy of audio looping by jailbait country music star LeAnn Rimes (who has a cameo in the finale).
Another hearty laugh stems from the fact that "Coyote Ugly" takes place in a picturesquely gritty, fantasy version of NYC in which a 21-year-old cutie pie bartender can walk down an alley at 4 a.m. in a 15-inch skirt and knee-highs, counting her tips without a care in the world.
But then, realism isn't a high priority for director David McNally, whose only significant previous credit is a Budweiser Superbowl spot. Apparently acting ability isn't awfully important to him either. As long as Perabo can toss her shampoo commercial hair during innumerable pouty, innocent double-takes as she discovers the wild world of New York night life, McNally seem to be happy. The rest of the foxy-but-forgettable cast (Maria Bello, Izabella Miko, Bridget Moynahan and fashion model Tyra Banks) looks mighty fine, and when they move their mouths words come out. But I wouldn't call it acting.
On the respectability front, the picture's one saving grace is John Goodman, who is blue collar perfection as Violet's modest, toll-collector pop.
But even though "Coyote Ugly" is tedious, obvious and badly staged, it does have an infectious spirit. That's hardly enough to save it, but in a year full of truly awful movies aimed at the can't-wait-to-be-21 crowd, it is enough to take the sting out of having to sit through another completely unoriginal, 100-percent pure Hollywood, assembly-line product.