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The Olsen Twins Horror Show

How the two cuties morphed into perv-friendly harbingers of Armageddon.

Dorothy Woodend 26 May

Dorothy Woodend is the culture editor for The Tyee.

She has worked in many different cultural disciplines, including producing contemporary dance and new music concerts, running a small press, programming film festivals, and writing for newspapers and magazines across Canada and the U.S. She holds degrees in English from Simon Fraser University and film animation from Emily Carr University.

In 2020, she was awarded the Max Wyman Award for Critical Writing. She won the Silver Medal for Best Column at the Digital Publishing Awards in 2019 and 2020; and her work was nominated for a National Magazine Award for Best Column in 2020 and 2021.

Woodend is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association and the Vancouver Film Critics Circle. She was raised on the East Shore of Kootenay Lake and lives in Vancouver. Find her on Twitter @DorothyWoodend.

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New York has certainly suffered a lot in the movies. King Kong hung off the Empire State building, in 1998 Godzilla has rampaged through its streets, and now in, The Day After Tomorrow, a wall of water gives it a tongue bath like no other. But those were minor compared to the latest monstrosities to hit New York. They probably don't weigh more than 120 pounds combined, they trundle about on spidery limbs, hunched over like they're always cold or perhaps osteoporosis has set in, but make no mistake, they are the harbingers of Armageddon.

In A New York Minute, the Olsen Twins, Mary-Kate and Ashley, play dueling Japanese Yakuza bosses. No, just kidding, they play twins. Now there's a stretch. Jane is a control freak with a power pink wardrobe, who awakens from a bad dream on the day of her big scholarship speech.  Her sister, rock and roller Roxy, is her polar opposite. Where Jane is a prig, Roxy is a pig. Mom is newly dead and the girls are down to obstetrician dad who has maybe two lines of dialogue before he disappears. The girls are on their way into the big city, Jane to give her speech and Roxy to attend a Simple Plan videoshoot, where she plans to hand out her band's CDs. Unbeknownst to them, they are being chased by a truant officer with a cop fetish, Max Lomax (Eugene Levy). At the train station, the two meet Bennie Bang (Andy Richter), who isn't actually a porn star, but some sort of Charlie Chan in whiteface character. Bennie is at the station to pick up a microchip containing pirated CD's, which is accidentally slipped into Roxy's purse.

Andy Richter is a talented guy, and what he is actually doing in this film, I'm not sure, but he does give it the only dry little laughs it has to offer. Evil Asian Andy offers the girlies a ride into the city, but once there, he locks them into his limo and demands his chip back. The Olsens escape and in the next few moments, they are assaulted by a homeless man's slurpee, fall in an Indian toilet, and are sprayed by a street cleaner, all of which seemed designed to relieve them as many of their clothes as possible.

Dead ringers

There is a strange undercurrent of perviness that runs throughout the movie. Twins and their strange intimacy has certainly been exploited before, think Cronenberg's Dead Ringers in which Jeremy Irons wandered through his apartment bleating mournfully "Ellie, Ellie!" to his dead twin. The Olsens are not quite near that creepy but it's a close call. They do too much nuzzling and hair rubbing and other simian activities for comfort.

Most of the film's 91 minutes is a bunch of chase sequences and musical montages, which gives the girls lots of opportunities to scream and scream, then try on lot of really cute outfits. But in the middle of all this straining for zaniness, there is an extended sequence that demonstrates just how bad, bad acting can be. The girls confront each other about their dead mom and their growing estrangement. Cue closeups of trembling lips, dewy eyes and tossing hair. Before you can say "Sister, my Sister" it's time for the happy ending, all is resolved. There is more hair nuzzling and the girlies dance and sing off into the sunset.

OK, I have twins issues

If New York Minute proves anything, it's that when you are young, you have no taste. I once tried to convince my parents to sit through the Village People Movie, but even at the tender age of eight, I knew it was crap. But New York Minute isn't even genuine crap, it's worse than that. Like most of the Olsen oeuvre, it is very much an engineered product. New York Minute borrows liberally from other films with references to John Woo's Hong Kong chop socky, Legally Blonde, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, School of Rock, Something about Mary, but that's not the worst of its problems. The movie seems written not just for those with ADD by actually by those with ADD. It's missing its connective tissue, things happen, and then a moment later, more things happen, but they bear little relation to each other.

As the first mainstream studio film for the Olsens, the girls have a lot riding on it. They have dragged in some genuine talents to help them out, including Andy Richter, Eugene Levy, and Andrea Martin, all of whom deserve better than playing second fiddle to some blank eyed automaton Stepford twins.

New York Minute is not the first Olsen twin movie I've seen, I've been subjected to some of their straight to video movies, when the teenager in our house, refused to turn them off, but New York Minute brings up a lot of issues for me. Maybe this is just envy speaking. I too have a twin sister, but the Woodend sisters don't have a media empire, billions in the bank or our own movie. Fortunately there is an upside to this lack of fame; we don't get dragged through the tabloids and we aren't swarmed by tweenie girlies every time we go anywhere. Not yet anyway.

Ultimate power couple

The Olsen empire started with Full House, a sitcom that was to young minds what Agent Orange was to the forest of Vietnam, rendering them barren and empty, a razed landscape over which the twins could march forth with their commands to buy their clothes, videos, magazine, and image. There are some 52 categories of Olsen products for sale adding up to $970 million in sales worldwide last year. Certainly there have been empires built on the power of cute. Hello, Kitty.

So what makes the Olsens any different? Power for one. The Hollywood Reporter named the twins as two of the 100 most powerful women in Hollywood. But the Olsen Empire, like that of Darth Vader, has a dark side. They are emblematic of a certain type of American neo-conservatism crossed with some oddly disturbing sexual elements. But unlike other child stars, you won't see the Olsens making risky choices in the acting field like Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver or even Brooke Shields in Pretty Baby, mostly because they can't act but also because any threat to the blandness of their image might be construed as a threat to the billions.

The Olsens have been stars since they were dumping in their diapers. But try as I might I simply don't understand it, them, the empire, the brand, the billions, the videos, the clothing, the magazine, because at the center of this corporation, what is there? Two young girls who can't really do anything. They certainly cannot act. Every word of dialogue falls woodenly from lips thick and numb with gloss. Herein lies the problem; there is no there, there. Only an image. But image these days, is everything. And the Olsen image is one of conventional girliness. Passive, pretty (but not too). And thin -- terribly thin. I asked Hannah R., 16, who is a genuine Mary-Kate and Ashley fan, what their appeal is, and she says quite simply "their look."

Perhaps, it's not fair to blame the Olsens for the vacuous vacuum they have created, they didn't drag themselves down to auditions when they were nine months old, and somewhere behind the scenes running the show is their puppetmaster manager Robert Thorne, controlling how they are both perceived and purchased. Which sounds a little scary. Dead Ringers was a horror movie, and so is New York Minute. When the end comes, it won't happen with a bang! but with two breathy little whispers. The horror, the horror...

Vancouver-based Dorothy Woodend reviews films for The Tyee when not writing for various international publications.  [Tyee]

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