'Women in Trouble'

And now for something completely different: From Sebastian Gutierrez, scripter of "Gothika" and "Snakes on a Plane," comes "Women in Trouble," a wildly uneven but compulsively watchable mix of high camp and grand passions, soap opera and softcore sex.

And now for something completely different: From Sebastian Gutierrez, scripter of “Gothika” and “Snakes on a Plane,” comes “Women in Trouble,” a wildly uneven but compulsively watchable mix of high camp and grand passions, soap opera and softcore sex. Very much in the deliriously lewd style of Pedro Almodovar — who has co-written unproduced scripts with Gutierrez, and gets a shout-out in the closing credits — this exuberantly uninhibited indie has the anything-goes spirit of something tossed off in a single burst of collaborative energy. Auds and critics will have mixed reactions, but theatrical and homevid potential is undeniable.

As director, Gutierrez serves his saucy scenario well, maintaining a pace that seldom decelerates from a hot trot while maneuvering through a busy patchwork of interconnected plotlines. But the candy-colored blur wouldn’t count for nearly as much without the full-throttle perfs by a virtually all-femme cast, led by a gorgeously game Carla Gugino and a sexily perplexed Adrianne Palicki.

The opening scene establishes the overall tone of stylized exaggeration while introducing Gugino as Elektra Luxx, a prolific porn superstar who’s greatly shaken to discover she’s pregnant; and Palicki as Holly Rocket, a rising X-rated performer with an inconvenient aversion to girl-girl action.

Pic sets these ladies off on seemingly disparate but ultimately intersecting paths, as Elektra finds herself trapped inside a malfunctioning elevator with Doris (Connie Britton), a bright neurotic with a dark past, and Holly joins her buddy Bambi (Emmanuelle Chriqui) to service an audience of one for an extra payday. Complications arise, coincidences abound — and the cast grows exponentially larger.

Through the roundelay, Gutierrez attempts to balance comic artifice with genuine emotion, clearly intending the aud to take even his most flamboyant female characters as seriously as he does. At its frequent best, the pic suggests a Cinemax After Dark sex romp directed by Douglas Sirk, a tickle-and-tease comedy in which souls are stripped bare but women remain clad in underwear.

There are very few characters viewers are invited to laugh at (rather than with), and, not surprisingly, the two most prominent are guys: a rakish Brit rock star (a flawless cameo by Josh Brolin) and an excitable celebrity interviewer (amusingly overplayed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt).

Gutierrez’s delicate balance has potent impact in Palicki’s hilarious yet heartfelt third-act monologue about a childhood trauma. At times, however, the strain shows. It takes a lot of heavy lifting by Gugino to keep the pic from sprawling into tedious silliness as Elektra describes, at length, a bestselling product modeled after a key portion of her anatomy.

Standouts among the ensemble cast include Sarah Clarke as a therapist driven to drink by her cheating husband (Simon Baker), Marley Shelton as a starstruck flight attendant who courts disaster while joining the Mile High Club, and Isabella Gutierrez (the writer-director’s daughter) as a shrewd adolescent who’s more level-headed than many of the adults around her.

Reportedly filmed in 12 days by an economy-size crew on a no-frills budget, “Women in Trouble” is a slick and sexy package with a pulsating score by Robyn Hitchcock and arrestingly bright production design by Daniel Mailley. There’s a kicky pop-art look to scene transitions and a refreshing snap to the script’s profanely funny dialogue.

And, like it or not, there’s more to come: After the pic’s world premiere at the SXSW Film Festival, Gutierrez announced he has already completed the second chapter in a planned trilogy.

Women in Trouble

Production

A Gato Negro Films production. Produced, directed, written by Sebastian Gutierrez.

Crew

Camera (color, HD), Cale Finot; editor, Lisa Bromwell, Michelle Tesoro; music, Robyn Hitchcock; production designer, Daniel Mailley; set decorator, Kyle Finot; costume designer, Denise Wingate; sound (Dolby Digital), Troy William Dunn; assistant director, Antonio Grana. Reviewed at SXSW Film Festival (Spotlight Premieres), March 15, 2009. Running time: 95 MIN.

With

Elektra Luxx - Carla Gugino Doris - Connie Britton Holly Rocket - Adrianne Palicki Bambi - Emmanuelle Chriqui Maxine McPherson - Sarah Clarke Cora - Marley Shelton Rita - Rya Kihlstedt Darby - Cameron Richardson Nick Chapel - Josh Brolin Travis McPherson - Simon Baker Bert Rodriguez - Joseph Gordon-Levitt Charlotte - Isabella Gutierrez Addy - Caitlin Keats
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