Variety Magazine

8 December 2003

Double Dare.(Movie Review)

A Runaway Films & GoodMovies Entertainment production in association with Map Point Pictures. Produced by Karen Johnson, Danielle Renfrew.

Directed by Amanda Micheli. Camera, (color), Micheli; editor, Purcell Carson; music, Marco D'Abrosio; sound, Craig Burton. Reviewed on DVD, Los Angeles, Nov. 18, 2003. (In AFI Los Angeles Film Festival.) Running time: 81 MIN.

With: Jeannie Epper, Zoe Bell, Steven Spielberg, Quentin Tarantino, Lucy Lawless, Lynda Carter.

Double Dare" examines the lives of two successful stunt women at opposite ends of their careers. Carefully arranged docu blends behind-the-scenes footage plus a couple of high-profile interviews; despite a contrived structure, it ought to be a festival pleaser.

Pic follows helmer Amanda Micheli's "Just for the Ride," about cowgirls on the women's professional rodeo circuit. A female director who must have had to overcome challenges in a man's profession, Micheli is clearly drawn to stories of women who do likewise.

She's chosen two intriguing protagonists: Jeannie Epper, a 62-year-old veteran stuntwoman who refuses to retire but confronts ageism and sexist attitudes, and Zoe Bell, a young New Zealander who is just beginning in stunt work.

Tracked first separately and then together as they forge a friendship, Micheli's subjects both were stunt doubles for their generation's biggest TV action heroines: Epper doubled for Lynda Carter of "Wonder Woman," while Bell took the falls for Lucy Lawless of "Xena: Warrior Princess."

Micheli shows Bell doing wire work as "Xena" is winding down production. She's also unearthed 25-year-old footage of Epper, including backstage material from "Wonder Woman" and a "60 Minutes" interview with the then-thirtysomething Epper conducted by Dan Rather.

Despite their age and cultural differences, Epper and Bell share distinct qualities. Both speak of the thrill over the sense of responsibility they felt when they landed their first gigs. Both say they'd rather perform stunts than anything else. And both know they have to overcome gender politics.

Epper is something of a legend among stuntwomen, having been born into a family of stunt people (Steven Spielberg calls the Eppers "the Flying Wallendas" of the Hollywood stunt world). She shepherds younger stuntwomen, including her own lookalike daughter Eurlyne.

When Bell arrives in L.A. for a "Xena" convention, the producers arrange for a meeting with Epper. This section feels a bit contrived, however, as if Micheli were throwing in a dramatic arc. Still, it's genuinely touching to watch Epper play Mama Bear to Bell. That dynamic is most apparent when Epper accompanies her protege to an audition for Quentin Tarantino's "Kill Bill."

Though Epper refers to herself as "one of the guys," her feminine and nurturing qualities appear to be making it difficult for her to land the job she wants as a stunt coordinator. It's heartbreaking to accompany Epper on a doctor's visit as she contemplates liposuction. Even stuntwomen, it seems, have to be thin and attractive in Hollywood.

Remarkably, Micheli infiltrates the "Kill Bill" production in China and shoots Bell doubling in fight scenes for Uma Thurman. There's also brief, revealing commentary from Tarantino.

Ultimately, "Double Dare" leaves several questions unanswered. When, for instance, will it be acceptable to see a female stunt coordinator? Viewers are left feeling that it's still a male-dominated profession, but that determined women like these might just effect some small change.