Thursday, June 11, 2020

Lucas Heyne's MOPE takes you behind-the-scenes at a dismally low-end porn studio

Said to be based on a real-life incident (don't watch the trailer unless you want just about every piece of important information given away in advance), MOPE, the 2019 film that made its debut at last year's Sundance festival (do they accept every movie submitted these days?), directed and co-written by Lucas Heyne, enters a world of (and spends way too much time with) depraved and stupid people acting in depraved and stupid ways.

Other than that, however, the film is just about as entertaining and edifying as you might expect.

Mr. Heyne, pictured at left, has failed to find the right (or much of any) tone for his film, resulting in its appearing to go over the top in terms of character, plot and performance -- and then stay that way throughout. Which makes the whole thing a lot less enjoyable or endurable than we might prefer.

Even the refusal to show any full frontal (in a film about the porn industry yet!) seems a weak and unnecessary cop-out. We do get one disembodied shot of a cock via video screen; otherwise, the main tool of porn remains consistently and prudishly just out of range, even and especially when the characters disrobe.

Our two main characters, Tom (played by Kelly Sry, above, left) and Steve (played by Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, above, right) initially seem like oddball slackers given to watching porn and imagining that they could become -- despite their much-commented-upon, small-sized sexual equipment -- major porn stars. What they are and will stay are mopes, which the movie defines at the outset as "bottom-tier porn performers who do the dirtiest, most depraved work in the business."

Indeed they do, but it is all neither as ugly (except for the initial scene in which a porn actress gets jizzed on by a large group of mostly unpleasant-looking men) nor as amusing as the filmmakers may have hoped. From time to time the movie's funny, in a black, bleak, sometimes ironic manner, but because that tone keeps fidgeting from one mood to another to another, as our would-be idiot heroes keep tripping over themselves in the dumbest ways possible, any sympathy built up quickly dissipates, while the comedy fizzles and/or the would-be drama goes sideways. Until, that is, the blood-letting begins. And that, one suspects, is the reason this movie got greenlit.

The film's biggest "star" is David Arquette (above), playing a successful porn director whom our boys con into imagining they have something to offer him, but once his couple of scenes are over, this character disappears. The real star here is an actor named Brian Huskey (below), whom I've seen multiple times during his long and fertile career, but until now, he has not had a role big enough to grab my attention. He certainly does here, playing the seedy, creepy lowest-of-the-low-end porn producer who is happy to use our two nitwits until one of them proves too much for even the likes of him. Mr. Huskey does wonders with the role.

As do the other actors on view. In fact, these good performances somewhat make up for the problematic concept, script and direction on view. As in porno in general, the women's roles are merely for show and for servicing the guys, though the actresses certainly do what they can with the material. The saddest role goes to Tonya Cornelisse as the late-in-the-game, addict girlfriend of Steve.

As the increasingly nutty Steve, Mr. Stewart-Jarrett is believable moment to moment, yet the script makes him so beyond-the-pale so soon and so often that it is difficult to believe anyone would put up with this guy for nearly as long as they do. It is, finally, Mr. Sry who brings what caring and heart that Mope can manage. He makes Tom the only remotely "good" guy on view: kindly, helpful, and even -- in the realm of technology, at least -- intelligent.

And then the dismal script has him, in an "inspirational" moment, telling Steve, "You can do this!" "This" turns out to be leading a gang-bang on Steve's own girlfriend. Well, it's all just ironic black comedy, right? Barely.
From Quiver Distribution, Mope opens via digital streaming everywhere across the USA this Friday, June 12.

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