We’ve all done it. A movie looks interesting, we start reading the synopsis only to realize it’s a found-footage flick, and we immediately turn and run the other direction. It’s a natural reaction as roughly 96% of all found-footage thrillers are for crap thanks to their consistently similar “plots” and utter apathy towards explaining the presence of the camera(s) in anything resembling a logical way. Which is why movies that dodge both of those bullets are deserving of a second glance.
Lucky Bastard deserves that second glance.
Mike (Don McManus) produces a web-based porn show called “Lucky Bastard” that picks one hopeful fan and films them having their way with a living, breathing porn star beauty. The latest winner is Dave (Jay Paulson), a shy but enthusiastic viewer whose anticipation at the prospect of having sex with Ashley Saint (Betsy Rue) leads to some premature bubbling over of excitement. That in turn leads to frustration, embarrassment, and an evening of highly un-erotic terror.
Director/co-writer Robert Nathan’s feature debut has more going for it than just its T&A setting, and first on that list is the reasonable explanation as to why and how everything we’re seeing has been captured on video. Porn is frequently filmed in homes rented for afternoon shoots (and reshoots depending on the talent’s abilities), and the one Mike’s using for “Lucky Bastard” is outfitted with numerous cameras throughout thanks to its previous incarnation as host to a reality show. Those cameras combined with the two handheld units catch all the necessary action meaning we’re never left wondering why someone would still be filming under certain circumstances.
The script, co-written by Lukas Kendall, also earns points for its slow ratcheting of Dave’s sanity so that even though we know what’s coming his increasing instability becomes a frighteningly real threat. Flashes of violence are glimpsed, and the reactions from others are equally believable. One issue though is the very fact that we know what to expect because the film opens with crime scene footage of a cop wandering the house and counting the bodies. If you pay attention you know exactly who’s going to live and die. It’s an unnecessary intro that deflates some of what’s to come.
Like most found-footage films there are two acts to fill here before things turn bloody, but unlike most this film fills some of that time with interesting and engaging banter and conversation. A subtle (and occasionally not so) commentary runs through the film on both sides of the porn equation, the performers/producers and the audience. Neither side is made to look all that rosy, but neither is vilified either.
The characters are just as worthwhile even when they’re not being serious. Mike in particular is a fountain of laughs and conflict, quick to poke fun and even quicker to argue, and veteran character McManus gives him a fiery energy that in turn keeps the film alive. Paulson is the right amount of creepy, and Rue, best known as the fully nude motel victim in My Bloody Valentine 3D, is convincing enough as the porn star feeling forced out as she gets older. She’s in it for her kids, for their future, but feels marginalized by a market constantly searching for younger, fresher, and more explicit fare. The rest are a mixed bag, but when’s the last time you noticed the acting on a porn set?
The film is being marketed in part on its sexual content, but it’s not really as graphic as it wants you to believe. There’s full frontal nudity from both sexes, but hardcore elements are inexplicably blurred, something that makes no sense in the context of this supposedly being raw footage from a porn show. The police wouldn’t have sanitized it, so why even feature scenes with those dangly and/or erect bits at all if you’re just going to pixelate them?
Lucky Bastard will turn some viewers off simply due to its setting or lack of a supernatural threat, but fans of found-footage films (if such people exist) should give it a shot. It’s a surprisingly effective little thriller that entertains with laughs, nudity, and a third act bloodletting that feels a bit like Beyond the Valley of the Dolls as a house of sin falls victim to a different kind of sinner. This is more grounded, obviously, and it builds to a final shot that hints to a bit more under the hood too.
The Upside: Smart handling of typical found-footage questions; well-acted; interesting commentary on adult industry; some legitimately tense moments; fast-moving; well-crafted killer; final smile
The Downside: Opening reveal unnecessary; third act terror grows a bit forced; some late stupidity
On the Side: “No persons associated with this motion picture will be running for president one day.”
Lucky Bastard is in limited theatrical release.