The world is a different place since the dawn of the coronavirus. At least once a day I find myself staring into space, my jaw dropped, marveling at some aspect of how things have changed and just how dystopian it all is.

Maybe you’ll read that as an exaggeration, but I can’t describe it any other way. One moment everything seems normal, and then something will catch my eye and the world slows down: my neighbor’s children wearing face masks as they cross the street to avoid oncoming pedestrians; my friend’s grainy images on FaceTime as the conversation turns into pandemic speculation and fears; and, of course, the constant news headlines as they slide past on the never-ending scroll of my screen.

But this week my moment of slack-jawed wonder was directed at a movie from Full Moon Features.

For the uninitiated, Full Moon is a production company that specializes in direct-to-video fares like Puppet Master and Castle Freak. These are folks that have never been afraid of a small budget and wear their love of creating B entertainment with pride. But while lots of companies could boast the same, Full Moon inhabits a special place in the genre world, and I don’t know if I quite have a name for it. It’s the world of William Castles and Roger Cormans. It’s a place where no idea is too strange and no topic is forbidden. And that brings us to BARBIE AND KENDRA SAVE THE TIGER KING.

On April 10, a new form of exploitation was born when Full Moon released their first “coronaspoltation” film Corona Zombies, a hastily created zombie flick about two women in a horror/fantasy version of our current predicament.  Too soon for some and just in time for others, no matter how you feel about the company capitalizing on the pandemic, you have to admit it fits right in with the grand tradition of exploitation cinema.

In BARBIE AND KENDRA SAVE THE TIGER KING, Barbie has just returned from her ordeal with zombies to find that Kendra is obsessed with a new TV show. The show is about Joe Exotic, who became a household name this March as the central figure in the Netflix documentary series Tiger King. While the duo watches the show on BPN (Big Pussy Network…get it?), they become increasingly convinced they should try to “save” Joe Exotic from his current incarceration.

But while that is the full story, it’s really only a framing device to set up the long overdubbed public domain movie that makes up the brunt of the hour-long movie. That story-within-a-story is about the journey of a young Joe Exotic surviving in the Amazon after the plane he is on crashes.

It’s a fine idea, one that shows like Mystery Science Theater 3000 and late-night networks like Adult Swim have done with great success. But here it gets dull pretty quickly. The big problem with comically overdubbed films is that your success completely rides on the source material. If the original film is entertaining to look at then the newly added comedy has a good chance of landing. Unfortunately for BARBIE AND KENDRA, the film they’re remixing is a very dry mid-century piece without the necessary zany scenes to spice things up.

The one interesting piece to the film comes when Barbie and Kendra decide to call up former Joe Exotic employee John Reinke to have a quick chat. In this section, the actresses largely drop their characters and just have a nice conversation with their guest. It was compelling and gave some interesting context to the events in the Netflix series.

At the end of the day, BARBIE AND KENDRA SAVE THE TIGER KING isn’t terribly good, but I don’t think my saying so would bother the creators. They’re just doing what we’re all doing these days: trying to make something out of the strangest year we’ve ever seen. If you’re blasting through your queues as fast as I am (and if you happen to have a few medicinal substances around), I think you should give the movie a shot. Just think, you can tell your grandkids you were around at the birth of “coronasplotation.” BARBIE AND KENDRA SAVE THE TIGER KING is now available to watch here.


Adrienne Clark
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