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Review: Lucky Bastard (directed by Robert Nathan)

Apr. 3, 2013by: Jake Dee

PLOT: When producers of the amateur porn site "Lucky Bastard" hire an unsuspecting fan to have sex with one of their most popular stars, the video shoot results in a brutally violent set of circumstances.

REVIEW: Outside a quick IMDB scan immediately before the screening, I'd heard very little about Robert Nathan's LUCKY BASTARD going in. I was, however, relieved to learn Nathan had an impressive two-decade resume in TV writing, having scripted many a episode for various police procedurals ("Law & Order", "Dragnet", "Prince Street", etc). At the very least then, I thought, LUCKY BASTARD should have a solid story and fleshed out script...doubly so if Nathan felt the material good enough to make his directorial feature out of. And for the most part, those turned out to be pretty safe assumptions. Alas, the found footage format that Nathan and co-writer Lukas Kendell opted to employ sort of proved to be the films undoing...because in order to frame such a narrative, the ending of the film, presented as found police footage, was chosen to be presented at the very beginning. Had it not, had the film simply played out linearly, I truly believe the films conclusion would have been much more powerful. As it is, any element of surprise or suspenseful climax is sorely lacking.

"Lucky Bastard" is the name of a porno site that affords faithful devotees a chance to have on camera sex with one of their adult actresses. Mike (Don McManus), an oleaginous self-made proprietor, owns and runs the site...taking no shit in the process. Ashley Saint (Betsy Rue), the company's hottest pornstar, is reluctant to ever do "anal or amateur," so she's immediately averse to partaking in any Lucky Bastard video shoot. Of course, she has two kids to feed and a raging G-spot to be thumped, so she eventually takes the gig. Cue Dave G. (Jay Paulson), the Lucky Bastard: a timorous, slightly gaunt, rather innocent looking gent. He drops a sob story in a Skype interview and the crew elect him as the next lucky bastard, we're soon taken to the first day of shooting at a lavish house somewhere in the San Fernando Valley. A Big Brother type house rife with hidden cameras. Well, it doesn't take too long to realize this Dave cat, real name Ernest, is a bit of a creeper. Okay, a fully unhinged whack-job! I guess won't spoil too much from there, because, again, the first two minutes of the flick kind of do that for you.

Despite knowing how it's all going to play out roughly ten minutes into the film, there were many things I personally enjoyed about LUCKY BASTARD. It's crude, appalling, highly offensive...and I absolutely loved that about it. Trust me, it earns it's NC-17 rating...and for that I admire its balls as much as I do Rue's ample bosom. But far more impressive was how clever the setup is, and how, by using amateur porn as its backdrop, instantly justifiable its own low-fi aesthetic becomes. Shit, this movie feels like it was made for $5,000, and by design looks so, yet never once left me bored or disinterested. There were a couple of slow pockets, sure, but because of the tight script (all takes place in a day or so) and convincing performances, I was pretty amused throughout. How many movies can you say that about at all, much less about one whose ending you already know...much less one that looks like a handheld porno much of the time? I do wish the opening footage of the aftermath was nixed for a suspenseful crescendo, but I enjoyed the journey even it traveled toward a foreknown destination.

The main reason for the appeal here, outside the pornography of course, is the performances. It's a tall ask to have an actor skillfully toe the line between realism and amateurism, and I must say, the three leads do an admirable job at just that. There are awkward, nonprofessional moments that come off quite believable, partly through staging, but mostly because of the actors' hard sell job. They really commit and go for it. McManus, a character actor with over 130 credits (SHAWSHANK, MAGNOLIA, etc.), credibly inhabits the role of a sleazy, mid-tier, my-way-or-the-highway porn producer. It's good to see him get rewarded with a starring role, no matter the size of the production. Besty Rue, who you surely remember from the motel scene with Todd Farmer in MY BLOODY VALENTINE 3D, equally impresses with her turn as Ashley Saint, a seasoned porn vet with a diva demeanor. It's her character who wisely senses something amiss with Dave, almost immediately, and since it's obvious to us as well, we come to identify with Ashley more than the others. And speaking of Dave, Jay Paulson (the blond X-files nerd in CAN'T HARDLY WAIT), yeah, he's flat out disturbing here. Not just in appearance (dead ringer for Mike White), but he plays the role with an instability and an unpredictability that makes him seem really dangerous. He's nice one moment, psychotic the next, so you never know what he's going to do from scene to scene (until the finale anyway). Without these performances, the flick would be pretty laughable.

Again though, for all the good in the film, it ends feeling more like a mere exercise in the found-footage format rather than an attempt at a truly suspenseful thriller. If that was the intention, to make a straight forward movie that claims to be made up of real police footage...testing the audiences' gullibility, I suppose it works (but even then I never felt I was watching non-fiction). Cinematically though, I'm quite certain that if we weren't shown the end-result of the film upfront, the tension would rise throughout, the suspense would mount, and legitimate shock at the end would be earned. It'd be an overall more visceral experience. That said, the committed performances from McManus, Rue and Paulson make the film a pretty entertaining watch. The subject matter is grim, explicit stuff, definitely not for the easily affronted, but it's watchability in spite of its limited resources is somewhat remarkable.

Extra Tidbit: LUCKY BASTARD opens in limited theaters April 5th.

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