Girl Walks Into a Bar: Film Review

Another charming low-rent production from a filmmaker intent on turning exploitation-flick clichés into actress-friendly romps.

"Entourage's" Carla Guigo and Emmanuelle Chriqui star in Sebastian Gutierrez's microscopic budgeted comedy which raises the bar for web-original content.

AUSTIN -- (Spotlight Premieres) The third of Sebastian Gutierrez's gynocentric ensemble comedies whose high-profile casts belie microscopic budgets, Girl Walks Into a Bar shows the writer/director solidifying a behind-the-camera M.O. that could earn him a cult following. Made specifically for YouTube and premiering there simultaneously with its SXSW debut, the picture raises the bar for web-original content -- plenty of online shorts match or exceed its yuk-factor, but Girl offers a combination of production value and sustained narrative rarely if ever deployed for free streaming.

Shot entirely within almost a dozen of L.A.'s more picturesque bars, the film organically strings together readymade locations for a story that (as with Gutierrez's Women in Trouble and Elektra Luxx) stars Carla Gugino and ogles its other female leads (especially Emmanuelle Chriqui, who plays a stripper) without ever getting them fully undressed.

Gugino is a former detective gathering proof that a local dentist (Zachary Quinto, whose comic clumsiness here is refreshing) wants to have his wife killed. When her evidence gets stolen by a would-be pool shark, Gugino must follow leads from one darkened dive to the next, eventually trading one MacGuffin for another while a parade of small subplots distract us.

The episodic structure with its shifts of setting about as regular as reel changes suits a story destined for a distribution channel where short attention spans rule. It helps that almost all the segments offer something lively, be it Danny DeVito's mob-connected poker player, Robert Forster's melancholy ex-con or the always-reliable charms of Rosario Dawson, who plays the hostess at a nudist ping-pong club.

Though Chriqui's pole dancer-as-mind reader sequence suffers from a bit of overwriting, Gutierrez has for the most part found a light touch that suits these friendly productions, offering his actors some sexy banter and the chance to display smarts they mightn't always get to show in their better-paying gigs. The only actor who doesn't rise to the occasion is Josh Hartnett, whose thin noir impersonation looks all the more callow when he's sharing a frame with Dawson.

Venue: South by Southwest Film Festival, Spotlight Premieres (Shangri-La Entertainment)
Production Company: Gato Negro Productions
Cast: Gil Bellows, Xander Berkeley, Alexis Bledel, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Rosario Dawson, Danny DeVito, Robert Forster, Carla Gugino, Josh Hartnett, Zachary Quinto, Michelle Ryan, Lauren Lee Smith, Aaron Tveit, Amber Valletta, Kevin Zegers
Director-screenwriter: Sebastian Gutierrez
Producers: Steve Bing, Sebastian Gutierrez, Richard Rosenblatt
Director of photography: Cale Finot
Production designer: Brian Vog
Music: Grant Lee Phillips
Costume designer: Genevieve Tyrrell
Editor: Lisa Bromwell
No rating, 78 minutes