Review: Lucky Bastard

In the end, considering the numerous ways the film goes limp, it seems credibility still eludes the found-footage genre.

Lucky Bastard
Photo: CAVU Pictures

The hardest thing for a found-footage film to achieve is plausibility. Hanging over the action of even the most intense, kinetically charged first-person action is one very large question: Why are these characters still filming even with a maniac killer, possessed demon-child, or radioactive monster on their tails? The sense of immersiveness that found footage supposedly generates is ultimately stymied because the style constantly calls attention to itself. This issue is mostly sidestepped in Lucky Bastard, a violent thriller in which Mike (Don McManus), who directs videos for an amateur porn site, explicitly resolves to “film everything,” from the behind-the-scenes prep work to the act itself, even rigging a McMansion with surveillance cameras to ensure every moment is captured. It’s a cheap tactic, but at least the audience will have an answer when it inevitably wonders why the cameras are still rolling.

Mike’s claim to fame is the “Lucky Bastard” series, in which he selects an eager fan to screw one of his actresses on film. He convinces his hottest starlet, Ashley (Betsy Rue), to take part in the latest installment, and she reluctantly agrees, her past problems with overenthusiastic fans making her nervous. Her misgivings are ultimately justified when the amateur beau, Dave (Jay Paulson), turns out to be an obsessive weirdo. It doesn’t help matters that the entire point of “Lucky Bastard” is to make fun of an everyday dude who lacks the fortitude of a porn star. When he can’t get it up, Dave attacks the cast and crew in a bloody maelstrom fueled by performance anxiety and chauvinistic neuroses. Director Robert Nathan has set his bar ridiculously low, but he encapsulates the film’s milieu perfectly; the dull digital sheen of online porn, with its featureless visual design and harsh fluorescent lighting, is fully realized, wholly authentic in its artificiality. It’s a fairly clever conceit that quickly wears out its welcome as the idiotic story unfolds, and whatever aesthetic logic the film had is gradually undermined by the script’s clunky plot and sloppy characterizations.

Perhaps the film is intended as some sort of meta-commentary on porn aesthetics, right down to the meagre plotlines and nonexistent character dynamics, but Lucky Bastard is repellently self-serious. The filmmakers seem utterly taken with this setup, making half-hearted comments about celebrity obsession, gender and sexual politics, and new media, the only problem being the film’s narrative is on par with an actual porno’s. A long, expository first act leads to a redundant second act, with incessant squabbles among the production crew over how to handle the squirrelly Dave. And in the third act, when Dave finally snaps, the ensuing melee is as dull and ill-conceived as the buildup that got us there. Lucky Bastard bills itself as horror, yet Dave’s rampage exudes all the cerebral terror of a student play, its characters too speciously and thinly conceived for the oversold scenario to rouse much tension. In the end, considering the numerous ways Lucky Bastard goes limp, it seems credibility still eludes the found-footage genre.

 Cast: Don McManus, Jay Paulson, Betsy Rue, Chris Wylde  Director: Robert Nathan  Screenwriter: Lukas Kendall, Robert Nathan  Distributor: CAVU Pictures  Running Time: 94 min  Rating: NC-17  Year: 2014  Buy: Video

Drew Hunt

Drew Hunt used to be an editorial assistant at the Chicago Reader. Now he's a strategy manager at Capitol Records.

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