Just what kind of audience do the makers of Coyote Ugly hope to reach? Surely when its creators initially sat down to plot out its marketing campaign--er, story--they envisioned a crossover hit that would pull in women viewers with an inspirational tale of a small-town gal (and aspiring songwriter) seeking fame, friendship and romance in the big city. Men, on the other hand, would presumably be hooked by the spectacle of barmaids writhing in abandon to early-'90s dance hits, their gin-soaked, skin-tight clothing clinging to their buxom figures. The point of intersection for these generally irreconcilable worlds is the setting named by the title: a trendy watering hole (modeled upon a real-life, Western-themed New York City pub) where female employees gyrate for the drooling, mostly male clientele in the aforementioned manner, and where Coyote Ugly's naive protagonist tends bar between rejections from Manhattan's finer publishing concerns. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer has long enjoyed success with this sort of calculated cross-gender appeal, notably in Top Gun, a testosterone-fueled male weepie infused with liberal doses of grade-A beefcake. But Coyote Ugly ought to be a much tougher sell. Its PG-13 bumping and grinding should satisfy only the mildly deviant, yet there's enough of it to potentially alienate chick-flick aficionados, who may stay away even in the midst of a summer largely devoid of gal-centric entertainment. The tissuelike thinness of the lead character won't help its chances with female viewers. As Violet, the good-hearted dreamer striving to overcome her social awkwardness, newcomer Piper Perabo wears a look of perpetual mortification, perhaps less in response to the predictable obstacles--music-industry indifference, a needy father back home--than in anticipation of the impending critical comparisons with Showgirls' Elizabeth Berkley. To her credit, Perabo is professional enough to keep a straight face as she performs a series of atrocious Diane Warren songs, bearing titles like "Can't Fight the Moonlight." (Wait a minute--did I say "to her credit"?)
Though she may be a nobody to ASCAP, plucky Violet is a star at Coyote Ugly. Through performing suggestive dance routines and lip-synching to prerecorded music, she bonds with the rest of the imposing staff: tough-talking ringleader and self-described "cast-iron bitch" (Maria Bello), unsmiling brunette (Bridget Moynahan), perpetually cheery blonde (Izabella Miko) and sassy black exotic (Tyra Banks). (Do the Spice Girls know their act has been swiped?) Naturally, Violet's line of work--and her inevitable wholehearted acceptance of her own objectification--earns her harsh reprimands from both working-class boyfriend (Adam Garcia) and grumpy ol' dad (an alarmingly large John Goodman). Their moral concern is surely meant to assuage any guilt male spectators might feel over cheering on an alcohol-fueled gropefest--not that the "Man Show" drones in the audience are looking for such a justification. For them, Cowboy Ugly's campy climax--in which Violet conquers her stage fright in time to share a duet with LeAnn Rimes, horribly miscast as a pop star of relevance--provides a just punishment.