'Cherry'

This vapid drama tries to present the adult-film industry sympathetically, but succeeds only in making it look full of narcissistic, tattooed twits who think having sex for a living makes them cool.

On one level, “Cherry” is just another story about a girl from the sticks who comes to the big city and becomes a star, except that here the chosen field of endeavor is porn. A directorial debut for novelist Stephen Elliott (who wrote “Happy Baby”), co-written by him and thesp Lorelei Lee (“Flower’s Squirt Shower 4″), this vapid drama tries to present the adult-film industry sympathetically, but succeeds only in making it look full of narcissistic, tattooed twits who think having sex for a living makes them cool. Poor word of mouth among buyers in Berlin means “Cherry” looks screwed as far as biz is concerned.

High-school senior Angelina (“Chronicle’s” Ashley Hinshaw, pretty but limited) is fed up with her white-trash life in Long Beach, Calif, where she lives with her alcoholic mom, Phyllis (Lili Taylor), abusive stepfather (Stephen Wiig) and little sister, Jojo (Maya Donato). With best friend Andrew (Dev Patel, “Slumdog Millionaire”) in tow, she runs away to San Francisco, where they hire a room from disco-bunny local Paco (Vincent Palo).

Although it’s blatantly obvious that Andrew has a major unrequited crush on Angelina, she doesn’t seem to think that their sharing a bed might be a problem, or that he may not be too happy when she starts dating rich cokehead lawyer Frances (James Franco, slated to direct an adaptation of helmer Elliott’s own book, “The Adderall Diaries”), whom she meets while cocktail waitressing in a strip joint.

Poor Andrew might as well take a ticket and get to the back of the line, because everyone has the hots for Angelina. She soon catches the fancy of Margaret (Heather Graham), a helmer at a slick porn studio who films Angelina doing a solo sexy-schoolgirl shtick as an audition piece. Even Margaret’s g.f., Jillian (Diane Farr), notes the attraction, which eventually precipitates a particularly risible bout of angry break-up sex. (Graham’s orgasmic scream of ecstasy is notably unconvincing, though perhaps the fakeness is meant to say something about her character.)

Elliott’s graceless helming is utterly lacking in the sort of wit needed to put this sort of material across; at best, “Cherry” could be described as camp in the original, Susan Sontag sense of the word, because it’s clueless as to just how bad it is. Patel, Franco and Taylor seem to be shuffling through the proceedings as fast as they can, as though trying to preserve a modicum of professional dignity. Other members of the ensemble look more at home in this milieu, but even their perfs are stiff as the sex toys on display.

The oddest thing about the film is that Elliott and Lee’s script makes no effort whatsoever to argue a pro-porn case, apart from asserting that people need to work, and these people like doing it, so where’s the problem? There’s not even a token attempt to mount any kind of post-feminist alternative-lifestyle defense of porn as empowering, subversive or whatnot. At one point, Franco’s Frances rips into Angelina, telling her he thinks what she does for a living is disgusting, and all she can do is sit there and snivel.

Pic’s only moderately saving grace is that it looks nice, crisply shot and lit as it is by lenser Darren Genet on HD. Editing, however, is a hot mess, and other tech credits are undistinguished on a middling budget.

Cherry

Production

A Rumpus Films production. (International sales: Rumpus Films, San Francisco.) Produced by Liz Destro, Jordan Kessler, Rick Dugdale, Elana Krausz, Datari Turner, Gordon Bijelonic, Taylor Phillips. Executive producers, Bendrix Bailey, Kim Leadford, David Raines, Claire Severance. Co-producer, Anisa Qureshi. Co-executive producers, Joe d'Angerio, TJ Mancini, Jeff Steele. Directed by Stephen Elliott. Screenplay, Elliott, Lorelei Lee.

Crew

Camera (color, HD), Darren Genet; editor, Michelle Botticelli; music, Jeff Russo; music supervisors, Bruce Gilbert, Isac Walter; production designer, Michael Grasley; art director, Christopher Gaw; costume designer, Daniella Turner, Tamara Chandler; sound, Max Greene; stunt coordinator, Tony R. Vella; assistant director, Kristina Hontalas; second unit camera, Kenny Brown; casting, Dominika Posseren. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (Panorama), Feb. 16, 2012. Running time: 102 MIN.

With

Ashley Hinshaw, Lili Taylor, Dev Patel, Diane Farr, Jonny Weston, James Franco, Heather Graham, Maya Donato, Vincent Palo, Elana Krausz, Steven Wiig.

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