If you ever wonder what comic book fans who grew up the nineties mean when they mention there being slim pickings on television by way of superheroes and fantasy, look no further than “Model By Day.” Penned by Jeph Loeb “Model by Day” was about as good as it got in the realm of live action superheroes. Before she became an X-Man, Famke Jannsen took on the role of the hero known as Lady X for this failed television movie and backdoor pilot. Back in 1994, The Fox Network’s big draw was sleazy soap operas, so they endeavored to make their own superhero show by adapting an indie comic that was a weird mixture of “Models, Inc.” and “Batman.”
“Model by Day” centers on world class supermodel Lex, who is a crime fighting superhero Lady X, a vigilante who, at night, foils criminals in the gritty world of—uh—modeling (?). Lex is so famous that when she walks in to a room everyone literally stops in their tracks to look at her; even if she’s in the middle of a busy police station. She becomes a superhero to find out who attacked and scarred her best friend and roommate Jae. Lady X dons the most impractical and gaudy costume, rivaled only by Halle Berry’s Catwoman. She stalks the night in bright purple leather that covers only a quarter of her body, a purple helmet, platform boots, and neon shades. She begins tracking down the car thieves that hut her friend, and soon finds a cause as a super heroine when police refuse to consider Jae’s attack as a priority.
Director Christian Duguay films the entire TV movie in the hazy lens of those cliché perfume ads that ran non-stop in the decade. Even when hero Lex is practicing martial arts with her sensei, the movie still looks like Elizabeth Taylor or Streisand will pop up eventually. “Model by Day” is a silly and often raucously funny attempt at a superhero series, but it’s also surprisingly ahead of its time in the way of themes and social commentary. It’s never outright indicated, but there are a lot of homosexual overtones with Lex whose sexuality is mostly ambiguous. She garners a very closely bonded relationship with her friend and “roommate” Jae, and even packs some sexual tension with the film’s villain Shannon Tweed. Meanwhile, there’s a lot of commentary about slut shaming, rape, double standards, and sexual assault.
That’s all sadly lost in a haze of cringe inducing “action,” and filler that is supposed to double as the writers setting up potential plots should the movie be picked up for a series. There’s Jae trying to find out who Lady X is, and even an evil Lady X who begins murdering people and framing the real Lady X. The movie does at least pack in some hilarious moments including Lady X’s confrontation with a thug in an alley who wiggles his foot in front of her as a means of threatening her. There’s also the shockingly funny moment where Lex stages a hasty getaway by sneaking through the window of a young teen that, by happenstance, has one of her posters. She gets away unquestioned, by pretending to visit him as he is one of her biggest fans.
The movie also has a good time turning women in to sex objects, fetishizing them left and right, even transforming Lexi in to something of a male fantasy. “Model By Day” wouldn’t be so terrible if it spent more time on the female empowerment and less on exploitative themes that undermine the movie as a whole. For all intents and purposes Famke Jannsen is very good in this role, playing it with as much dignity and commitment as possible, while also never failing to look gorgeous. Folks like Kim Coates, Nigel Bennett, and Shannon Tweed have a ball hamming it up. “Model By Day” was terrible in 1994 and is still terrible today. It’s only worth watching if you’re in to re-visiting a period of the nineties where neon, and club music were popular, if briefly.