If this review were an open letter, it would be addressed to actresses all across Hollywood. In recent years, I’ve bemoaned (on their behalf) the dearth of strong roles for women. It was more than evident during awards season this past year, as assembling five picks for any awards show’s Best Actress category seemed to prove most difficult. It’s not a lack of great talent, it’s a lack of great roles. But I’ve found a solution, ladies. Someone to whom you can go and find that great role. He writes female characters that are strong, sexy and funny. And above all, he writes characters with all of these qualities that also feel authentic. His name is Sebastian Gutierrez. And he shoots his movies fast, so try to keep up.
Elektra Luxx picks up where Women in Trouble, the sensational first part of this trilogy to be, left off. We meet Elektra (Carla Gugino), a porn star whose career has just ended with her newfound pregnancy and the untimely death of her rock star lover, Nick Chapel (Josh Brolin). With her future filled with uncertainty, Elektra attempts to navigate a sea of odd occurrences, including being blackmailed by the flight attendant who was with Chapel at his time of death, played by Marley Shelton. She’s also caught in an existential crisis – what does a retired porn star do, and what kind of mother will she be? These are problems that are very real for porn stars past their prime. Because as the very funny Joseph Gordon-Levitt explains as sex blogger Burt Rodriguez in the film’s opening moments, “porn stars are people, too.”
Also returning from Women in Trouble is failed porn actress Holly Rocket (Adrianne Palicki), who is still madly and secretly in love with her best friend and roommate, a high priced call girl named Bambi (Emmanuelle Chriqui). And there are new characters – Burt Rodriguez has a much bigger role as an Elektra Luxx-obsessed, artsy sex blogger. He’s also got a sister, played by the adorable Amy Rosof, who is cute and looking to become the internet’s next famous nude pin-up. He’s also got a love interest named Trixie, played by Malin Ackerman, a corner store cashier who is also harboring some desire to get naked for the internet – or at the very least, for Burt.
If it sounds like a lot, that’s because it is. Like Women in Trouble, this film is caught up in telling several concurrent stories, all of which are interesting in their own right. It is perhaps Sebastian Gutierrez’s greatest strength and most fatal flaw as a storyteller. His ability to craft interesting characters is top notch. I would love to see an entire movie about Burt Rodriguez, or Holly Rocket and Bambi – in fact, I’d really like to see the Holly/Bambi flick, as theirs are the sexiest scenes I’ve drooled at in a long time. But alas, these stories are cut short by having to be crammed into the overall story. In a more episodic way than Women in Trouble, the first half of Elektra Luxx becomes muddled in its many back-and-forths between the storylines. It also bounces between what is happening now and several dream sequences. The dream sequences, as is the case with any scene in this movie, are colorful, vibrant and lively – and sexy to boot – but they seem victims of forceful storytelling rather than fluidity. He even has an interesting (for lack of a better word) Lynchian scene involving a cameo by the Virgin Mary. It’s all over the place, but each small vignette is interesting.
That said, the third act of this film closes things down expertly. The storylines (save for one) come together nicely and fit into a nice package that should hand-deliver the start of the third film in this trilogy, Women in Ecstasy. As well, the film is visually interesting. Gutierrez’s use of color and adherence to a promise that beautiful women will be lit well is a welcomed diversion from the ping-pong nature of the story. As well, he shows his film nerd cred with an stunning Bridget Bardot-esque shot of Carla Gugino laying on a bed, blonde hair sprawling and sending us into a love-drunken stupor. These women aren’t just strong, authentic characters – they’re stunning.
Beyond the visuals and the delightfully charismatic performances all around, Gutierrez fills his movie with sharp wit and smooth humor. Leading the charge is the delightfully ditsy (her character, mind you) Palicki, who continues to steal the show, just as she did in Women in Trouble. Throw her back in there with the always lovely Gugino and the very funny Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and you have a movie that is, at its core, funny, sexy and ultimately enjoyable. Enjoyable not because of the eye-candy, but because of the sensational writing effort of its writer/director and the dynamic performances of its cast. It’s enough to leave us anxiously waiting the final chapter of this story, one that will hope will be come to life soon. And if there’s one thing we’ve learned from chapters one and two, it’s that the final frame will be full of life, laughs and heart.