“LUCKY BASTARD” (Movie Review)
Extreme-shock fans tempted by the prospect of an NC-17 found-footage fright film should be advised that the sexy stuff in LUCKY BASTARD is a lot more explicit than the horror content. As it turns out, that part is more interesting too.
Opening in Los Angeles today and expanding to more cities soon, LUCKY BASTARD begins with a title card stating, “For too long the adult entertainment industry has pushed the boundaries not only of obscenity but common sense. Those who play with fire…eventually get burned”—establishing itself as both autocritical and moralistic in one swoop. A lengthy early sequence is unpromising, as we watch through mostly handheld camera as a sexy shoot appears to go violently wrong for a couple of helpless actresses. However (psych!), this turns out to be part of a “rape porn” flick being lensed by producer Mike (Don McManus) with actresses Ashley Saint (Betsy Rue) and Casey (Catherine Annette). The movie gets more engaging once it settles into its actual storyline, revolving around Mike’s Lucky Bastard website, which offers on-line voyeurs a shot at hooking up with their favorite adult-film stars.
In this case, the lucky bastard is Dave (Jay Paulson), selected because he seems less aggressive and cocky than the other applicants. Nonetheless, Ashley feels a little less lucky; she typically doesn’t do amateurs, and Mike has to sweet-talk her into taking on the gig. These two lead performances are a large part of what makes the main section of LUCKY BASTARD work; Rue, who got memorably naked in MY BLOODY VALENTINE, is very convincing as a woman trying to hold onto her humanity in an often dehumanizing business, and McManus is quite good handling his porn king’s swings from sympathetic and understanding to opportunistic and manipulative. The—ahem—ins and outs of his business, as discussed and dramatized here, feel right as well, to the point where you might expect the creative principals to have some experience there. Instead, surprisingly, director/co-scripter Robert Nathan’s background is in writing and producing episodic TV like ER and LAW & ORDER’s assorted incarnations.
In LUCKY BASTARD, he’s come up with a venue that lends itself to the found-footage approach. We watch as Mike and his small crew (with Casey, his ambitious girlfriend, talking her way into a cameraperson position) pick up Dave, who seems nervous and self-effacing at first, then as things turn strange when he gets a little too personal in his conversations with Ashley ahead of their assignation, she freaks out and has to be convinced to stick with the program—and the cameras roll the whole time. This is great footage, after all, playing to the second purpose of the Lucky Bastard site: giving viewers the chance to laugh at the awkwardness of its “winners.” The bulk of the movie takes place in a house that has been a frequent filming location, and has recently had cameras installed in every room for a reality-show shoot, offering a plausible device for covering the action from all angles.
Since this is a horror flick in the end, that “action” turns out not to be the type that Mike and co. expected to capture. Things go wrong in the heat of the moment, and the scenario is transformed from a flesh fest to a blood show—though not nearly as bloody as one might expect under the circumstances. The violence, though convincingly staged, is pretty tame—which is not necessarily a problem in itself, but it’s exacerbated by a feeling of foregone conclusion during the last act (especially since this is one of too many movies that dispel some of their tension by opening with a flash-forward to the crime scene). Other than the last-minute arrival of an additional character, there are no surprises or shocks once the mayhem begins, just the feeling of the inevitable playing itself out. As a tense, dramatic and sometimes snarkily funny peek inside a low-rent world, LUCKY BASTARD succeeds in seducing you; when it comes to the horrific payoff, unfortunately, the movie can’t quite get it up.