Elektra Luxx is infinitely worse than its predecessor, 2009’s Women in Trouble, which was already pretty damn bad. But Sebastián Gutiérrez, writer and director of both films, is clearly blinded by delusions of relevance. Although virtually no one saw his first outing—no one, that is, except for critics earning money to see it, who in turn hated it—he’s convinced that rehashing it will truly reveal his genius. Think again.
Women in Trouble gave us a hectic day in the lives of Elektra Luxx (Carla Gugino), a buxom, blonde, forty-something porn star; two of her younger co-stars (Adrianne Palicki and Emmanuelle Chriqui), the former severely brain-damaged; Elektra’s rock star boyfriend (Josh Brolin), who accidentally suffocates during an airplane toilet tryst with a stewardess (Marley Shelton); and assorted other oddballs and drama queens lounging around posh L.A.
Elektra Luxx basically follows the same story structure, with one small twist: Elektra has left the porn trade and taken on sexology teaching. Gutiérrez resorts to desperate, rapid-fire exposition, as characters both new and reprised pop up, explain their relation to Elektra and what they want out of her, and then disappear for long stretches of time—only to re-appear when you’ve long forgotten about them. The subplots are supposed to intersect, gradually, but they feel tacked on, arbitrary, wildly erratic in tone. Surreal touches like a little girl pantomime-smoking a cigarette give way to heartfelt depictions of marital crises, which give way to a scene of two bimbo porn stars bantering like Abbott & Costello (“He saw one of your movies in a hotel.” “I never shot a movie in a hotel”). It’s like watching an Iñárritu melodrama as directed by Julie Brown. It’s the cinematic equivalent of an aneurysm.
Pornography is undoubtedly an overexposed—no pun intended—industry, but it’s still lurid and controversial enough to be ripe for sophisticated satire. But Gutiérrez’s sophomoric, candy-colored approach makes much of Elektra Luxx play like straight-to-cable soft-core porn comedy–without the sex. That means countless scenes of respectable actresses dolled up to look like porn stars, swapping graphic sex tales with the same flat, deadpan, jokey remove. But no one seems to realize that this sort of ribald repartee is not funny when it’s delivered in such a winking, enervated fashion; the actresses, especially Gugino, look deadly uncomfortable acting trashy. Gutiérrez seems to know how inherently ridiculous porn is; he’s spot-on about the makeup and lipstick and skimpy outfits and even the idiotic, punny titles (“There Will Be Head,” for example). But in his mind, all porn stars are walking jugs of sugar, constant apologists for what they do. It’s porn thrice-removed, the most limp, gutless satire imaginable.
There’s no need to divulge the intertwining plot threads in Elektra Luxx in any coherent form, so let’s just let the film’s many ludicrous moments –starring talented, reputable actors, mind you—review themselves. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a Mexican blogger—whose accent comes and goes as it pleases—obsessed with Elektra Luxx; he’s introduced as a sort-of narrator, then basically abandoned. His younger sister (Amy Rosoff) wants to increase his blog traffic via Webcam stripping. Timothy Olyphant pops up as a sleazy private eye who, in short order, has sex with Gugino, tries to blackmail her, tries to date her legitimately, then completely disappears. A miserable-looking Justin Kirk gets one joke-free scene as an angry husband; he’d clearly rather be back on Season 1 of “Weeds.” “Mad Men’s” Vincent Kartheiser, sporting a beard, gets a five-minute nude scene in an elevator. There’s a dream sequence with a Broadway number and a black-and-white, Fellini-like dramatization of a very minor character’s sexual history.
By the time Julianne Moore, of all people, appears as a wise-cracking Virgin Mary, you’ll start longing for an actual Cinemax porn comedy. Or at least the unabashed wit of, uh, Jenna Jameson.