Monday, February 09, 2009

Brenda Starr

Brenda Starr posterBrenda Starr (1989) takes the successful 1940s comic strip of the same name for its primary plot, which centers upon a beautiful female reporter, Brenda Starr (Brooke Shields), whose sense of adventure will drive her after any scoop. We are first introduced to Brenda as she is being drawn in the comic strip by Mike Randall (Tony Peck). He absent-mindedly insults her character when all of sudden she starts talking back to him and then walks out of the frame, refusing such treatment. Mike is dumbfounded and then, seeing no other alternative to find this leading lady, draws himself into the comic to try to convince her to come back.

Brenda proves in the first scene, where she apprehends a notorious mobster and gets the story before her arch-nemesis Libby “Lips” Lipscomb (Diana Scarwid), that she is more than capable as a reporter, but The Flash newspaper for which she works is still likely to go out of business unless she can uncover the lead on a new miracle fuel which appears to be strong enough to power rocket ships and was found in the Amazon jungle of Brazil by Professor Von Kruetzer. When the President of the United States confides to her that the fuel would allow the Russians to go into space and fry cities like ants under a magnifying glass, Brenda realizes the scale of the situation and immediately heads to Brazil, armed with advice on where to find the professor from the mysterious, one-eyed man, Basil St. John (Timothy Dalton), who also warns her of the dangers of the trip.

These dangers emerge from all corners, and apparently all countries, as Brenda is first apprehended in Puerto Rico by the Russians, later becomes a prisoner on a tug boat chugging up the Amazon river, and is then taken captive by a traveling circus. She manages to escape in every circumstance by using her know-how and her surroundings; for example, throwing her cover-up in the eyes of the Russians or using her purse to climb up a building. Her talents seem endless, and they are definitely noticed by the debonair Basil who frequently appears throughout her trek. The two begin to fall for each other, which is when Mike catches up to the duo and insists that Brenda return to his comic strip. Brenda refuses and before long Mike is caught up in the chase as well and relying on Brenda’s adventurous spirit to get him out of sticky situations. Before long Mike falls for Brenda and begins to demand that she choose between being with Basil or returning with Mike to the real world. Although Brenda does like Mike, she can’t be bothered to choose when she’s on the trail of a big scoop, in addition to the Russians and Libby relentlessly on her tail.

Brenda, Mike, and Basil finally discover the professor on his deathbed in a secluded Amazon village. After he passes away, Brenda discovers the fuel capsules in his hand and she rejoices as they head to Basil’s house, in a car powered by the miracle fuel, to telephone her newspaper. Alas, Libby is already waiting at Basil’s house and runs off with the fuel capsules. Brenda thinks she’s ruined until they realize that the fuel used on the car was actually a fraud and could never power a rocket ship. With this story Brenda returns to New York as a hero, but then refuses Mike’s offer to return to the real world. Mike reluctantly draws himself back into his own world, but is comforted by the thought that he will still be able to see Brenda Starr everyday as he draws her in the comic strip.

Brazil is portrayed in the film with two different faces. When Brenda and Basil are romancing each other in fancy restaurants and town squares in the city of Belém, Brazil takes on the look of a vacation destination; but when Brenda ventures into the Amazon on her quest, the dangers surround her with mercenaries, piranhas, snakes, and corrupt characters. In addition, when we are first introduced to the professor and his miracle fuel in a black and white projection film, he is surrounded by excited, yet ambiguous, indigenous men, with white war stripes, beaded jewelry, and loin clothes. It appears as though the film uses Brazil for what is called for in the script, with almost no regard for culture (although Brenda and Mike do enlist the help of a group of Capoiera dancers at one point to evade the Russians). The scenes in Puerto Rico aren’t much better as they exhibit the country as a Caribbean beach town with bustling markets and road-side cafés: charming, but lacking in depth. The line between countries is even more blurred as the characters use a mix of Spanish and Portuguese when they try to communicate with the locals, most of whom already speak English and appear to compassionately tolerate the ignorance of the foreigners. As may be predicted from a film with a plot from a comic strip, the audience of Brenda Starr must be prepared to accept misconstrued cultures and implausible situations with a grain of salt.

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