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Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death
1989 - PG-13 - 90 Mins.
Director: J. D. Athens
Producer: Gary W. Goldstein
Written By: J. D. Athens
Starring: Shannon Tweed, Bill Maher, Karen Mistal, Adrienne Barbeau, Brett Stimely
Review by: Jake Cremins
   

Bill Maher suffers the standard punishment for questioning the war on network television.
'Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death' is one of those admittedly great movie titles that, like 'The Texas Chain Saw Massacre,' pretty much guarantees that the people who would enjoy it most will avoid seeing it if at all possible. You would not expect a movie with a title like that, starring Shannon Tweed and Adrienne Barbeau and concerning a tribe of scantily clad women living in the "Avocado Jungle" of Southern California, to be a funny, spirited comedy that uses its story as a critique on modern feminism, but there you go. (I guess anything's possible in a world where 'Blue Monkey' was considered the best title for a movie about a gigantic praying mantis.)

Tweed plays Dr. Margo Hunt, a women's studies professor who is contacted by the Department of Defense (Division of Avocado Affairs) and asked to venture deep into the Avocado Jungle. It seems that the Piranha Women, a tribe reputed to breed its men as sperm donors and beef jerky, in that order, has been growing rebellious and preventing farmers from harvesting avocados on the jungle's borders. This, it goes without saying, could lead to "a major avocado gap with the Soviet Union."

Hunt is asked to reason with the Piranha Women in the hopes of getting them to move into a complex of luxury apartments in Malibu, where "the gym has been converted into an altar, so that they can still perform their bizarre sacrificial rituals." She goes reluctantly, accompanied by Bunny (Karen Mistal), a gum-cracking Valley girl who idolizes Hunt and is thinking of changing her major from home economics to women's studies, though she still has to ask if it's common for feminists to eat men. Along the way they pick up an incompetent guide named Jim (Bill Maher), because it is required that they travel with an insensitive male for the feminist to argue with. Jim is the least funny character in the movie, but I will always treasure the scene where he negociates his price with Margo, and especially the line, "All you women have ever done is, what? Some French chick invented Kryptonite or something."

As the trio travels deeper into the jungle on their quest, 'Cannibal Women' engages in the kind of goofy humor you'd expect from low-budget schlock like this, but then it keeps surprising us with snappy, well-written dialogue that combines genuinely funny comedy with--dare I say it?--actual ideas and opinions about modern sexual politics. This is the kind of movie where a scene will start out with a lame gag involving Maher falling out of a Jeep, and then suddenly pick up as he and Tweed have a rapid-fire debate about whether society would have been better or worse if women had been in charge, as Bunny tries and fails to interject. Other scenes, if not so socially relevant, are fairly clever, such as the way the movie keeps drawing attention to its low budget with its own dialogue: upon reaching the jungle fortress of the Piranha Women, which some may recognize as Hollyhock House in Los Angeles' Barnsdall Art Park, Margo demurs that "their architecture is surprisingly advanced."

Another surprise is the performance of Tweed, who shows herself here to be too good an actress to have spent the rest of her career appearing in late-night Cinemax movies. She knows how to handle comedy, and is actually thoroughly convincing as a studied professor. There's a scene somewhere in the middle of the film when Tweed delivers a monologue about the way she usually interacts with men, and while it's surprising how good the writing is, it's just as much of a shock that she delivers it so well. (And the response to this genuinely heartfelt moment is perfectly timed and performed, getting one of the movie's biggest laughs.) Adrienne Barbeau (mighty good herself) appears late in the film as Dr. Francine Kurtz, who disappeared in the jungle a year before, and if you think I'm blowing a plot point by revealing that she now rules over the Piranha Women you should really get out there and see 'Apocalypse Now' before it's too late. Kurtz, of course, eventually ends up whispering "the horror...the horror," but in circumstances too funny for me to reveal.

On one level, this is the kind of cheaply made, pleasantly slapdash movie that would be perfect for a night at the drive-in, but 'Cannibal Women' also operates on another level altogether. Writer/director J.D. Athens really has something going on here, and no wonder: he's actually J.F. Lawton, whose next screenplay was for 'Pretty Woman.' That movie, of course, drew a bit of ire for painting a rather rosy picture of what it would be like to work as a prostitute in Los Angeles; as for this one, I'd actually be kind of surprised if any women's studies professors complained.
 
Movie Guru Rating
Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not. Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not. Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not.
  3 out of 5 stars

 
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