Movie Review: “PVT CHAT” is exactly what you think it is, only weirder

True confession here. When pressed for time, the only criteria I use to decide whether to review something pitched to me is that it comes from a distributor (and/or publicist) I know, and that the title is listed on Rotten Tomatoes (and certainly on Metacritic, too).

That’s a great way to stumble into something not suitable for every audience, something you might not want to watch in mixed company, screen on a notebook in a public space or what have you.

I mean, the title’s “PVT CHAT” and we ALL know what that implies. But when you don’t make a habit of reviewing porn, well #WhoKnew?

This little NYC indie has a limited cast, a pervy hook and a lot more clever touches and twists than I would expect. Given that I didn’t really have expectations, I mean.

The characters begin as “types” — the lonely, hapless Incel who gambles online and burns his earnings on sex chat websites, and the voluptuous 20something dominatrix who may be smarter than her kittenish, Kardashian vocal fry lets on, but probably not.

Even the basic set-up, guy becomes obsessed with his favorite “dom girl” chat contractor, seems porn lazy and simplistic.

But over the course of 80some minutes, we get a taste of Jack’s exterior life and interior one. And the lady Scarlet? There’s more to her than zippers, dominatrix commands to “my slave” and blowing cigarette smoke at the screen to tease, torment and taunt Jack with.

“Lick it,” she commands him, meaning his computer screen. “LICK it!”

Jack (Peter Vack of TV’s “Love Life”) is a hipster-aged habitue’ of Manhattan’s Chinatown/Bowery corridor. In between video blackjack sessions, he walks the mean, wintry streets of the naked city in search of another ATM.

When he wins at blackjack, he starts burning through chat sessions. He’ll take whoever he can get online for a session, but Scarlet (Julia Fox of “Uncut Gems”) is his favorite. She drives him wild with desire, something the film goes to graphic lengths to underscore.

Things turn weird when lonely, needy, clingy and trying-too-hard Jack hits her with a question.

“What have you been doing since we last talked?” He’s insistent. “How much do I have to tip you to get you to drop the act and just talk?”

What are your hobbies, what are you thinking, he wants to know?

“You know what I’m thinking right now? I’m thinking you should tip me another $200!”

But they start to chat. Jack’s obsession grows as he gushes, entirely too much, about Scarlet’s art — her “real” passion, apparently.

Jack’s online addictions are thrown into sharper relief when we see that he wasn’t always like this and that he used to have a girlfriend, a video performance artist (Nikki Belfiglio) who does comically pretentious audience participation “happenings” and is still into Jack, apparently.

Scarlet has an offline life, too, one she lies about to maintain the illusion that she lives in San Francisco. Jack? He’s seen her in his local bodega, where he stocks up on the ramen noodles he subsists on.

The players make the characters just intriguing enough to hook us. But the story drifts away from these two when we learn of Scarlet’s private life “complications” — a would-be playwright boyfriend (Keith Poulson) — and Jack’s random encounter with a house painter (Kevin Moccia) whom he meets when he wakes up and the guy’s in his tiny apartment, painting it.

Painter Will and his even less interesting goombah pal (Buddy Duress) becomes fans of “Blackjack Jack,” as Jack claims other people call him. Jack’s made two new friends!

It’s just that Jack lies — a lot. Scarlet does, too. The fact that neither reveals her or his suspicions about the other suggests a genuine mystery might be unfolding here, some sort of cat-and-mouse game.

That element of the story is left under-developed. There are coherence problems as the story lurches into position to start its final act.

The explicit spanking-the-monkey/petting-the-cat nature of the “relationship” is what our writer-director is more interested in, in graphic detail. So if you’re into that…

The film was written and directed by Ben Hozie, and if it wasn’t for his IMDb page, I’d have zero confidence that is his real name.

He’s made an unconventionally conventional movie about connecting in the sexual Facetime era, one that’s more intriguing than it has any right to be, but less surprising than it needs to be, considering the down-and-dirty online sex hook Hozie wants to hang it on.

MPAA Rating: unrated, explicit sex, nudity

Cast: Julia Fox, Peter Vack 

Credits: Scripted by directed by Ben Hozie. A Dark Star release.

Running time: 1:26

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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