Film Review: ‘Lucky Bastard’

This creaky found-footage thriller offers a preachy look at the world of pornography.

With:

Betsy Rue, Don McManus, Jay Paulson, Christ Wylde, Catherine Annette, Lee Kholafai.

A new low for found-footage films, “Lucky Bastard” uses a porno shoot as the stage for a thriller with little mystery and lots of pointless moralizing. Adequately re-creating the look and feel of many amateur sex videos, director/co-writer Robert Nathan follows a porn star (Betsy Rue) and her producer (Don McManus) as they begin shooting an adult movie co-starring an obviously disturbed fan (John Paulson), leading the pic down a tedious, ill-constructed path toward its preachy conclusion. It’s hard to imagine anyone beyond those curious about the premise to seek out “Bastard,” given its NC-17 rating.

Whether viewers believe that pornography is a terrible business or not, “Lucky Bastard” will do little to convince them to change their minds, much less believe the film is justified in “punishing” those who work in the profession (“If you play with fire … you eventually get burned,” reads one of the opening title cards). Nathan’s approach to the subject is hardly enlightening, opting for banal and obvious truths even as it operates in something close to snuff-film territory.

Eliminating any suspense over how the possible shoot might go down, the pic opens with police footage of a house with four bloody, beaten bodies inside. It then flashes back to a week earlier, introducing us to star Ashley Saint (Rue), who is shown being tricked and then raped during a video shoot that turns out to be “just a performance.”

Despite her ambivalence, she’s pushed into doing a “Lucky Bastard” video by her sleazy producer, Mike (McManus), which will involve her having sex with one of her fans. When they choose the seemingly innocent-looking Dave G (Paulson), his awkward demeanor and too-personal knowledge put Ashley on red alert, while Mike pushes them to continue. After an arduous buildup, during which the shoot goes wrong due to “technical issues,” Dave is sent away, only to return on a murderous rampage.

The house the crew shoots in (an actual porn set) justifies the presence of continually running cameras, and the combination of a legitimate found-footage concept and the porn industry could have led to any number of interesting thematic concerns related to the blurry line between reality and performance, exploitation and control. Any ideas, however, are shortchanged here, brought up casually in banal dialogue and then shunted aside so Nathan can focus on the thriller’s violent aspects.

None of the murders is particularly well staged (the sound effects feel distinctly off), yielding little in the way of suspense. While the characters try to draw sympathy by stating that they’re just doing a job or saving up money for their kids, it’s clear that they’re really there to be punished for their wrongdoing, leaving the viewer with little to do but enjoy the spectacle of their downfall.

Technical aspects are perhaps the film’s strongest aspect.

Film Review: 'Lucky Bastard'

Reviewed online, New York, Feb. 5, 2014. Running time: 94 MIN.

Production:

A Vineyard Haven production. Produced by Jim Wynorski. Executive producers, Luckas Kendall, Robert Nathan, Ashley Saint.

Crew:

Directed by Robert Nathan. Screenplay, Luckas Kendall, Robert Nathan; Camera (HD, Color, Widescreen), Clay Westervelt; editor, Tony Randel; production designer, Eugene Bowen; sound editor, Michael. J. McDonald; visual effects supervisor, Emery Carrol; assistant director, Ricardo Smith.

With:

Betsy Rue, Don McManus, Jay Paulson, Christ Wylde, Catherine Annette, Lee Kholafai.

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