Hey, Vasquez,” Bill Paxton’s Colonial Marine snarks to his colleague, played by Jenette Goldstein, in 1986’s Aliens. “Have you ever been mistaken for a man?” “No,” she replies. “Have you??
Chicks doing dude stuff'and having a major badass attitude about it'is a mini-genre near and dear to my heart. It’ll be pure gold, as far as I’m concerned, as soon as someone makes a movie about a spunky gal in the male-dominated field of film criticism; I see Kate Winslet as me. The emphasis remains on the “mini?'as in skirts'though. They’re rare enough that each time a new chicks-doing-dude-stuff movie comes along, it’s cause for celebration, if only a mini one.
Take Bandidas, just out on DVD. Think Salma Hayek as Butch and Penélope Cruz as Sundance, but ratchet down your expectations if you’re hoping for the kind of movie magic Newman and Redford gave us. Not that this isn’t a fun little flick: Hayek and Cruz are totally adorable as, respectively, a spoiled brat and a farmgirl in turn-of-the-20th century Mexico whom circumstances turn into buddy bank robbers with a revolutionary zeal. Nascent feminism fuels their tongue-in-cheek crime spree. Hayek throws off her corset, literally and figuratively, in one scene, and teaches Cruz how a real woman kisses, with kissee Steve Zahn as the early CSI nerd they’ve kidnapped.
Sorry if I got you worked up, guys'this is solid PG stuff, with no naked boobs and no girl-on-girl action. It’s not the most effective cinematic example ever of women claiming the right to behave with the same merry abandon as men, but it’s much more lighthearted than, say, 1991’s Thelma and Louise or 1997’s G.I. Jane'both, coincidentally, from director Ridley Scott. And no one has to die or get the living crap beat out of her by Viggo Mortensen merely for wanting more than society is ready to give.
Fortunately, from the perspective of pure popcorn entertainment, most movies about chicks doing things traditionally considered to be in the dude domain are pure fantasy. They’re free of fretting over whether chicks should be doing stuff like wielding guns on wild cross-country road trips or joining the Marines, and just let them do it, and have fun with it. James Cameron’s films are the best example of chicks unfettered by cultural constraints, like Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio’s oil-rig engineer in 1989’s The Abyss. Even the few slurs slung at her by other characters are specific to her, and not to chicks as a class.
The “one tough chick” is never a “type” in Cameron’s flicks. The Abyss also features Kimberly Scott’s roughneck, but the best example of Cameron’s complete appreciation for chicks doing dude stuff as if this were the most normal thing in the galaxy is the aforementioned Aliens. It fills its ranks of totally badass Colonial Marines with too many chicks to count, and they all get to do cool stuff like fly dropships, kill aliens, die nobly in order to save their brothers and sisters in arms, and smack down Bill Paxton as the only whiny, complaining girly-girl Marine.
Cameron is also responsible for one of the baddest of the badass chicks of cinema, The Terminator’s (1984) Sarah Connor. Since we’ve never actually had to deal with a robot uprising before, it’s hard to say whether that would be considered a traditionally dude thing. Certainly, though, giving birth to the future savior of mankind is likely going to fall to a chick. Likewise, in Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979), Ripley'another badass chick'faces a unique situation much like Connor’s: How does a fight for survival against critters you’ve never run into before fall along gender lines?
But I’ll slot Ripley and Connor into this mini genre. They’re chasing danger rather than running away from it, rather than cowering behind the dude who’s probably scared witless in the face of whatever horror awaits but more afraid of being labeled a coward if he doesn’t save the chick. Who needs dudes like that, anyway?