Studio: Gravitas Ventures
Director: Robert Nathan
Writer: Lukas Kendall, Robert Nathan
Producer: Jim Wynorski
Stars: Don McManus, Jay Paulson, Betsy Rue, Chris Wylde, Catherine Annette, Lee Kholafai, Lanny Joon, Clint Brink, Deborah Zoe
A website that invites average fans to have sex with pornstars discovers that its latest amateur actor has a dangerous mind.
The idea of a Bang Bros-style porn shoot that leads to murder when the production chooses the wrong amateur for a “man on the street meets famed pornstar” video seems so tailor made for “found footage” horror that it is a wonder it took this long. You know those videos where the camera follows a pornstar into an adult bookstore and the supposedly unsuspecting men who are just there to buy a XXX DVD suddenly find themselves with an opportunity to appear in one? “Lucky Bastard” explores what might happen if an adult video shoot inadvertently selected an unstable stalker to star in one such “f*ck a fan” feature.
Having played a similar role in “Black Rock” (review here), casting agents have clearly clued into the fact that actor Jay Paulson brings a balanced blend of damaged nice guy and simmering rage stalker perfectly suited for the persona of uneasy creep. With a grade school haircut and perpetually slouched shoulders, Paulson gives his character of Dave the physical presence of a traditional born loser. Yet his eyes also bear that unmistakable hint of brooding darkness born from a dull life of endless rejection and failure. Paulson modestly overplays his performance in some early dialogue delivery, making it feel a touch too much like “acting,” though it ends up working in favor of playing a character also pretending to be someone he is not.
Dave is the titular “lucky bastard” serendipitously selected by the eponymous website to have a once in a lifetime rendezvous with porn starlet Ashley Saint. Unfortunately for Dave, it becomes clear once the camera starts rolling that he suffers from virtually every sex-related problem possible, specifically performance anxiety, premature ejaculation, and a tease of latent homosexuality. Unfortunately for the fictional “Lucky Bastard” cast and crew, kicking that hornet’s nest means flipping Dave’s switch. Flaccid frustration turns to deadly desperation when Dave decides he will go to extremes to retrieve the humiliating footage no matter who stands in his way.
Even knowing only the bare minimum about “Lucky Bastard” before going in, the premise makes itself clear in short order. It isn’t trying to hide the fact that Dave is going to explode at some point, especially since the opening scene is a jump forward in time that shows dead bodies dotting the property where the ill-fated film shoot ultimately takes place. Although Dave’s fuse is lit before the audience even meets him, he doesn’t ignite until nearly an hour into the film, which turns a lot of “Lucky Bastard” into a waiting game for the inevitable explosion.
“Lucky Bastard” follows a clearly developed and convincing story, is well acted, well staged, and well shot. The tipping point determining if the movie works though, is how an individual viewer responds to the production’s inclusion of rape roleplay, masturbation, bukkake conversations, and First World familial problems of the men and women behind it all. These are dicey depictions for constituting entertainment, making revulsion a likely response for some.
Killings aside, the drama in “Lucky Bastard” comes from its behind-the-scenes peek at the unseen side of pornography production. The director has an ex-wife and custody issues. The starlet is a single mother with a meth-addicted baby daddy. How well an audience engages with these people is less dependent upon the success of the performances and the script’s characterizations, and more directly tied to how interested the viewer is in the average lives of what some may perceive as unsympathetic smut peddlers.
The good news is that the cast more than pulls their weight. Even though he is constantly yelling, belittling, or otherwise behaving like a lout, veteran familiar face Don McManus is himself likable enough that his porn producing character can be too. Channeling a Ginger Lynn vibe in both looks and onscreen persona, Betsy Rue gives pornstar Ashley Saint a similar charm.
The bad news is that “Lucky Bastard” still has one hour to fill before Dave goes rogue, and another half hour after the climactic turn has already taken place. Down the home stretch in particular, “Lucky Bastard” extends some scenes so long that they become redundant or uninteresting, such as during a confrontation between the killer and a male actor he is attempting to humiliate. In these moments, the movie is not as tight as it needs to be to capitalize on the tension.
It might sound like porn shoot meets first-person horror is an exploitative cash-in on lowest common denominator concepts. Shameless appeal to gorehounds and perverts is not this film’s objective however, although the true intended audience is hazier to determine. “Lucky Bastard” is one of the more believably structured and executed stories to use the “found footage” frame, but its NC-17 subject matter is too sleazy to have broad appeal that will work for all thriller fans.
Review Score: 60