Utterly kaleidoscopic credits to a most swinging Les Baxter score give way to the story of Vegas belle Michelle (Welch). One sunny, carefree afternoon, she’s drinking tea and making shopping plans with pals Iris (soap actress Pat Delaney) and Nikki (Oklahoma-born Sandra Giles). Plans are broken when Alan (Luke Askew, Easy Rider), the jealous loser whom Iris recently divorced at her friends’ urging, shows up to plug all three with bullets.
Iris stabilizes in the ER, but Michelle is so traumatized, she can barely rouse the gumption to shake her groove thang onstage. (Don’t worry, male viewers: She gets over it mighty quickly.) But after Alan kills Nikki in the hospital and the runs over Iris with his car, Michelle is left as the final pin standing, and he’s eager to knock her down.
Up to this point, Flareup is such a campy gas that I’d suggest it adding to your list of must-see Vegas movies — you do have such a thing, right? — but the star vehicle runs out of gas as soon as Michelle’s sudden romance with an average Joe named Joe (James Stacy, Something Wicked This Way Comes) takes flight. And late in the game, when Michelle stumbles into a zoo at night, it seems as if Disney-vet director James Neilson just may have, too.
The movie is cheaply made. Bullets piercing a windshield were added in post, so they look like novelty stickers. When a man catches fire (hence the title), Neilson makes no effort to hide the man’s protective gloves and face mask, not to mention the waving of some object at the edge of the frame.
Flareup almost could qualify as noir if not for its for-hire direction and the neon circus that informs every frame. Ms. Welch certainly has the curves and the cunning to play one of those femme fatales who shuffles into the frame of a private dick’s office; she was just born a couple decades too late. As if to make up for it, she sure shimmies the hell out of that strip-joint stage. —Rod Lott