Tuesday, September 30, 2014

LUCKY BASTARD (2014) DVD review

Lucky Bastard (2014) d. Robert Nathan (USA)

Fading porn producer and director Mike (Don McManus) runs the “Lucky Bastard” website, which arranges and records the sexual exploits of their devoted male fans with adult film professionals. Against her better judgment but in need of cash, sexy starlet Ashley St. Clair (Betsy Rue) is cajoled into pairing off with eager amateur “Dave G.” (Jay Paulson) for a bout of interweb wank material. Unfortunately, Dave turns out to be a little too eager both in and out of the bedroom – he surprises his co-star by revealing her real name and then prematurely loses the crew from his pink submarine. Emotions run high and devil-deals are made, all captured within the hidden-camera laden lair, but as the crime scene footage that opens the film makes clear, there is no “happy ending” in store for anyone.

If you’ve heard of this heard of this twisted little item, it’s likely due to its web presence where exec-producer and co-writer Lukas Kendall detailed the travails of gaining distribution for an NC-17 independent thriller whose hook is being set within the world of porn. It has since garnered a growing number of positive reviews, which further piqued our curiosity.

But despite its racy premise and occasional nudity from Rue (who memorably let it all hang out in 2009’s My Bloody Valentine), there’s a surprisingly low titillation factor here. Instead, it’s a well-wrought study of wavering morals and emotional manipulation, with solid performances all around, expert cinematography from Clay Westerveldt, and crackerjack editing from Hellraiser II director Tony Randel. (Producer and legendary schlockmeister Jim Wynorski seems to have helped put the pieces in place and then gotten out of the way.)

Not everything works as tightly as it could, but Kendall and first-time director Robert Nathan (whose industry credits include writing and exec-producing numerous Law & Order episodes) get more things right than not. While this is, yes, another found-footage movie, the conceit actually works since the material comes from the myriad lenses scattered throughout the location (McManus comments that this is one of those “reality TV houses”) and a professional crew hired to “film everything.”

It also helps that we are genuinely engaged by these jaded characters who are clearly not thrilled by their lot in life, but too entrenched to feel shame (or much of anything). None are particularly sympathetic, but neither are they villains; everyone is just trying to get the job done, even Dave who quite literally can’t.

Speaking of which, Paulsen and McManus are terrific foils for one another; both tender delicately shaded characters whose emotions turn on the proverbial dime without losing an ounce of authenticity. (There aren’t too many modern-day Wynorski productions that can make the same claim.) As the put-upon females, Rue and comely co-star Catherine Annette are equally layered, assuming and dropping the mask of fantasy girls as the situations demand, using sexual maneuvers to mask their hurt and pain.

If this all sounds like a bit much for casual viewers seeking cheap thrills, it probably is. There’s more talk than flesh or blood, and the violence – while still intense – is rarely placed full frame. Gorehounds and sex fiends will probably cry foul, expecting more prurience for their MPAA rating, but with expectations in place, there are enough fresh ideas and technical skill on display to serve the turn.

Lucky Bastard is currently streaming on Hulu and available On-Demand and DVD from Cavu Pictures. Special features include an audio commentary track shared by Kendall and Nathan (the former is genuinely engaging and forthright, while the latter takes himself just a little too seriously), which only heightened my respect for Westerveldt and Randel's efforts in seamlessly pulling off the found-footage illusion. Not that I'm asking for more FF films, but dammit, this is the way to do it, folks.

--Aaron Christensen, HorrorHound Magazine

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