I want to take a little time to talk to you about porn.
No, this isn’t just for page clicks, but what the hell – porn boobs Kate Beckinsale bigfoot leather Motley Crue! (There, that should make this the most clicked-on Daily Grindhouse piece ever made.) Robert Nathan’s LUCKY BASTARD is a legitimate reason to talk about porn, as the found footage thriller takes place entirely in its world. In the context of the film, “Lucky Bastard” is a web-based porn series in which an online fan is chosen to have sex with one of the company’s stars, so it’s only natural that the film features a fair share of slapping flesh on display. (The name Jim Wynorski in the producer credits could also provide a hint.)
And there’s no question that LUCKY BASTARD has no problems showing flesh, as the film does feature plentiful full nudity that warranted the film to receive an NC-17 rating. Admirably, the film never feels like its actors are baring flesh for the sake of pure titillation – with the film’s plot, the nudity is so casual that it just seems there by design. It’s a damn porn shoot that goes horribly wrong! You’ve got to expect a little of the ol’ pickle ‘n’ beaver.
But putting the two together in the case of LUCKY BASTARD results in a pixilation effect that, quite honestly, kind of distracting in a film that purports to be composed of actual camera footage of the shoot. (We’re given the results of the shoot in the opening scene that features police cameras showing the multiple dead bodies along with, bizarrely, a message about the dangers of how pornographers reap what they sow that wouldn’t feel out of place in some sort of religious anti-porn propaganda.) A well-crafted, carefully set-up scene that deliberately creates confusion over whether or not the characters on screen are acting or just being themselves is quickly shot in the foot when the “found footage” veil is lifted by a couple with curiously over-fuzzed crotches.
Now, I’m not saying LUCKY BASTARD needed to have full penetration in order to work as a film. Nobody expects a film that doesn’t come from a website that features moaning noises or comes in a giant box to include actual penetrative sex. (Unless you are 12 and have stumbled across Cinemax during a free preview weekend and they’re showing JOY: CHAPTER II in the middle of the night and you figure if they can show penises, they might just show ANYTHING. I am surmising, from a friend.) But film is all about illusion, and if you’re not going to have penetration but still want to allude to characters having sex in graphic detail, use editing, camera angles and, hell, on-set objects to cover it up. Pixelation, especially in the case of something meant to be raw, uncut footage, is just distracting, like listening to a poorly-edited “clean” version of a song. It’s not only more noticeable than actually just being there in the first place, but it’s so noticeable that it takes you out of the moment you’ve been so careful to set up.
In the case of LUCKY BASTARD, those are some pretty solid moments that have been set up as well! The film follows producer Mike (Don McManus), a surly amateur adult filmmaker attempting to put together the latest in his “Lucky Bastard” line. His starlet, Ashley Saint (Betsy Rue) is game, but picky on choosing which wide-eyed stranger who submitted a video application she’d have sex with on camera. She’s initially reluctant to make it with Dave (Jay Paulson),a dorkily affable young man who claims to have been in the service and resembles a CHUCK & BUCK-era Mike White, but Mike eventually persuades her, and the cast and crew head out to meet him.
Awkward on camera, Dave is tempted to not go through with the film, especially after learning that he has to talk, but Ashley soon reels him back in with the promise of her talents at his disposal. They eventually attempt the deed in a house that was once used for a former reality show (so there will be plenty of coverage, though it’s unclear why they’d need it for such a rudimentary shoot) only to have Dave be insufficient in the technical department. His “manhood” questioned, Dave lashes out against the crew, forcing them to drink the black sperm of his vengeance.
The found footage aspect mixed with the look at amateur porn filmmaking allows for some clever scenes, and the veil of playing the personification of a fantasy instead of being an actual person is played with well in the case of Ashley, given a solid portrayal by Rue. McManus makes for an entertaining curmudgeon, and Paulson manages to be convincingly awkward enough to make for a lead that’s both compelling as a character yet distant enough that you understand why he’d be more the butt of the joke – the perfect foil for the “humiliation porn” that the “Lucky Bastard” franchise represents.
Unfortunately, the film doesn’t quite go far enough to satisfy the promise of a found footage revenge film with porn elements. For one thing, Dave’s “humiliation” is a bit negligible, and the footage produced seems so unusable that it wouldn’t be released, so his subsequent actions feel more like an unhinged guy with some sexual issues rather than a normal guy lashing out against those who wronged him. (It may have been due to one of the crew laughing openly at his failures, which begs the question of why someone so unprofessional would be on a porn set.) While LUCKY BASTARD has a fair share of tension-filled moments, the actual deaths depicted have little impact, and those expecting a splatter flick will find their hopes as pixelated as those looking for a hardcore porn film.
The first half of the film, however, is a relatively witty exercise in sleazy renegade filmmaking featuring some strong performances and a smattering of commentary on the nature of sex fandom. It’s a shame that the second half is never either quite as outrageous as its premise suggests nor as convincing as a “found footage” film should be. LUCKY BASTARD has an interesting idea that occasionally manages to reach the heights of its potential, even if the final results feel like the punches have been pulled on both a thematic and a visceral level.
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