Picks and Pans Review: The Legend of Billie Jean

updated 08/12/1985 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/12/1985 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Into the crowded idiom of teen movies, The Legend of Billie Jean introduces a new archetype: the Mall Outlaw. It's the sort of story that used to be merely the basis of a Bobbie Gentry single. But Hollywood endows this featherweight folktale with the hallmarks of an adolescent's poem: persecuted heroine, melodramatic narcissism and the fantasy of a youth underground. When some rowdies wreck the scooter of Billie Jean's younger brother, she demands justice. Instead she gets a sexual assault from one of the rowdies' fathers. As happens in all such ballads, a gun goes off by accident, and Billie Jean goes on the lam from the Corpus Christi trailer park where she lives. As played by Helen (Supergirl) Slater, Billie Jean is Rambo, the Pied Piper and Pat Benatar all rolled into one Botticelli blonde. She catches Jean Seberg's Saint Joan on the late show and impulsively cuts her hair short. She then videotapes a message of vindication that makes the local news and makes her Joan of Arc of the trailer park. When Billie Jean's crusade is usurped by her peers—teens throughout Texas adopt her close-cropped look—the movie is onto something: the convenience and disposabil-ity of clone culture. But to sustain this media-mad hallucination, Billie Jean needed a more whacked-out director than Matthew Robbins, who co-wrote The Sugarland Express, which this movie often echoes. Intoxicated by its own improbabilities and buoyed by strong performances, Billie Jean is nevertheless a nutty and trashy candidate for a treasured title: the best bad movie of the year. (PG-13)

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