'Walk All Over Me' is whip smart

KEVIN WILLIAMSON -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 4:32 AM ET

Thigh-high boots and voluminous cleavage do not a movie make.

But they certainly help.

To wit: Walk All Over Me, a stylish, superfluous romp that dresses up the crime comedy genre with a studded dog collar. The results, much like watching Leelee Sobieski teeter about in high heels and a low-cut corset, are awkward, a tad loopy but unmistakably engaging. Bettie Page meets the Coen brothers? No, but the attempt isn't without its rewards.

Sobieski plays Alberta, a small-town screwup fleeing thugs who bolts to Vancouver to crash with an old friend, Celine (Tricia Helfer). Just so happens Celine is also a dominatrix. So far, so good.

But things go awry shortly after Alberta's arrival when she accidentally ruins Celine's best SS get-up. In order to replace it, she decides to impersonate her whip-wielding pal and make some quick, easy cash. Her first client, Paul (Jacob Tierney) -- despite his peculiar tastes -- even seems harmless enough. Not quite. Turns out he's on the run from nasty criminals led by Lothaire Bluteau (Black Robe). If this sounds increasingly absurd, it is -- and the film, both bloody and bawdy, vacillates in tone. No surprise there. Violence and comedy are notoriously difficult to marry and the union here is a tumultuous one at best. Moreover, whatever comic potential lurked in the premise's simplicity goes largely untapped as the script (by Calgary-based director Robert Cuffley and co-writer Jason Long) crams in multiple kidnappings, last-minute rescues and the redemptive power of masks and cuffs.

That said, Cuffley nonetheless proves adept at incorporating the bondage milieu into Alberta's development as a character. In other words, the S&M theme exists as more than merely a way to squeeze its leggy leading ladies into leather and lace.

In this task, he's aided greatly by both actresses, who are grounded and convincing in roles that might have stumbled lesser performers. Geek-bait Helfer, best known as a Battlestar Galactica vixen, communicates tenderness and humour from behind a hardened, life-weary stare, while Sobieski, the former child star, wrings much comic mileage out of the jittery, inept Alberta's predicament.

More problematic are the villains. Bluteau, peering out from under jet-black locks, doesn't seem to know which is more threatening -- glowering or whispering -- while his dim-witted goons never register as more than, well, dim-witted goons.

There's a lot to like about Walk All Over Me and there probably would have been more if, like any of Celine's clients, it had been more scrupulously disciplined.

(This film is rated 14A)


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