Movie Review: Working in porn? Try not to be the “Mope” on set

Some movies lay it all out there, up front. Jam everything they’re about into an opening scene and force the viewer to decide, “Nope” or “Let’s see where they’re going with this.

It’s a great strategy for “film festival” movies, cinema that won’t ever reach a large audience but which might find ITS audience, given a little notoriety.

“Mope” opens with a circle jerk, and leaves little to the bodily fluid imagination as it does. Right then and there, you’ve got to commit.

“Am I interested in this look at the lowdown low-lifes of porn, or am I at least willing to sit through it?”

Lucas Heynes’ “actual events/names changed” film is a dark comedy that isn’t really comic, an expose that isn’t intended as such and a sobering look at porn as it pretty much is now (the setting is 2010), with none of the gloss, rose-colored glasses and gorgeous movie stars of “Boogie Nights.”

It’s about two friends who meet and become “partners” in that mob of homely men “acting” with one naked blonde opening scene. Tom Dong (Kelly Sry) is an IT/tech whiz (sorry) who gave it all up for the chance to become a porn star. The bragging blowhard (sorry) Steve Driver (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett) is equally delusional, and manic to boot.

Both are lonely shrimps, but figure their lives will change if “the ladies” know they’re so good and uninhibited at sex that they’re “porn stars.”

“Every woman wants what a porn star can give her. Stability...and the ‘best lay on Earth,” etc.

And when Tom whispers non-sexy words of encouragement into Steve’s ear during their group scene — Steve’s having performance issues — they bond.

They’re into the same kinds of porno pics, reveling in a shared love of this actor’s “butt cycle,” and classics of the genre — “artful anal, but shot on VHS.

They idolize “The Hedgehog,” hardcore fans’ nickname for porn star Ron Jeremy. They dream of becoming “The Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker of Porn.” And they’ll do anything to get in on the ground floor at Ultima Studios.

Brian Huskey imagines camcorder director and studio chief Eric as Stanley Tucci taking on a new career. He’s funny, tough, flexible, and just like the two “kids” who want to get their start — a bit off. Their “audition” is an improvised “sleepy cheerleader” scene that climaxes (sorry) with a high kick to the groin.

Maybe “ball busters” are “the next big thing in the adult entertainment industry.” Probably not. But Eric is all-in on the possibility, calling out directions as he videos.

“STOP looking at the camera! Check out those SHOES!”

Neither young man is well-built or “well-endowed.” Neither has much personality. But they beg their way into place to stay and a pittance for pay, even though Steve (living in his car, with “hygiene issues”) and Tom give Eric doubts. Are they like, gay?

“I can’t afford to have anything WEIRD here.”

But they’re hired, two “actors” and custodians for the price of one, “one ‘mope’ and two bodies.”

That’s what a “mope” is, the lowest employee on the porn totem pole, a needy wannabe who has no other sexual options but this, and is willing to clean up the mess — sexual and scatological — that comes (sorry) with the territory.

Tom shares Steve’s mania for “learning the business from the ground up” and both say they’re willing to do things no other men in this business will do.” It’s just that they’re no good at at it. And Steve? He’s not quite right.

They shoot a “cuck” scenario (a gang-bang with the hapless boyfriend/husband there to watch and be insulted) and Eric calls for his mopes — Fisting Bill, Johnny Panties, Jerry Brokehammer and uh, Dick Tracy — to taunt the “husband” as they service his wife.

Steve. Doesn’t. Get. It.

He declares that the best part of having sex “with her is cuddling afterwards.”

“Mope,” again based on a true story, shows these two failing their way into chance after chance. A more legitimate director, Rocket (David Arquette), is willing to give these“Bukkake Boys” with their “Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan of porn” idea a go. Only in the most humiliating ways.

“Come on, guys! This is COMEDY. Stereotypes are funny!”

Arquette’s Rocket gives the Chinese-American Tom lessons on how to do a racist Hollywood Japanese accent. He shouts at Steve — “Why are you talking so WHITE? Channel your inner MANDINGO!”

But all along, we’re getting a weirder than weird vibe from one of our two heroes. What can seem random and off-the-wall in his improvisations during scenes (“MONSTER hands! Chicken hands!”), his explicit letters home to a NASA father he wants to impress, suggests something darker.

Sry, of TV’s “Awkward,” doesn’t make much of an impression as the shrinking violet of the cast. British actor Stewart-Jarrett dazzles and discomfits in scene after scene, playing a man who may demand respect but seemingly willing to accept any humiliation. And Huskey (“Veep”) gives an openly mercenary but indulgent reading of Eric, a turn that never lets you stop thinking “He’s doing Stanley Tucci!”

The real value in “Mope” is stripping the sheen and the glamour off of porn, still shot, as it was in the pre-Internet “Boogie Nights,” in the unfashionable San Fernando Valley (Van Nuys and environs).

A walking tour of a low-rent porn studio is amusing — “Here’s our ‘hospital’ set. That’s the ‘interrogation room.’ In there’s the ‘lube room.'” Don’t ask what’s in the vending machine.

But everything in this, from the seedy locations to the homely men and high-mileage women “performers,” down to the junkie-hooker brought in for day work, makes you feel dirty for just having watched it.

And that’s kind of where “Mope” leaves you, not quite embarrassed for laughing at these two dopes trying to find a place in what is a laughably odd “business,” but wondering if you should be. Heyne never really reconciles that, content to get his shocks and his laughs until things aren’t that funny any more.

2stars1

MPAA Rating: unrated, sexually explicit to the point of gross.

Cast: Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Kelly Sry, Brian Huskey, Tonya Cornelisse, Nash Carter and David Arquette.

Credits: Directed by Lucas Heyne, script by Lucas Heyne and Zack Newkirk. A Quiver release.

Running time: 1:46

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