PORNO (2019)

Porno.jpg

Studio:      Fangoria
Director:    Keola Racela
Writer:      Matt Black, Laurence Vannicelli
Producer:  Chris Cole, Sarah Seulki Oh
Stars:     Evan Daves, Larry Saperstein, Jillian Mueller, Glenn Stott, Robbie Tann, Peter Reznikoff, Bill Phillips, Katelyn Pearce

Review Score:

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Summary:

Religious teens working at a movie theater in 1992 unleash a murderous sex demon after playing a secret satanic film.


Synopsis:     

Review:

Working at a movie theater was the best minimum wage job I ever had. Then again, my job before that was at Chuck E. Cheese. I wore a giant mouse costume soaked in the sweat of countless teenagers during a July when the restaurant¡¯s air conditioning was busted and the building was heated by a 450-degree pizza oven. Careless kids used my furry body like a jungle gym as I struggled to see through the wire mesh on that helmet because my glasses slid down my nose in a river of inch-deep perspiration. Comparatively speaking, any summer job open to a 16-year-old would have been better than that.

The real appeal of the theater came from the free films of course, but also from the eclectic gaggle of guys and girls who worked there. It¡¯s over 25 years later and I¡¯m still Facebook friends with a fair number of the former high-schoolers and college kids who swept aisles, tore tickets, and slung popcorn with me. Good times were made even better thanks to the unique chemistry of some pretty average Midwesterners, with a lot of us having been raised in a Catholic school system too.

Take it from someone who vividly remembers what being a sexually-repressed teenager wearing a multiplex-issued bowtie was like in 1992, ¡°Porno¡± disappointingly doesn¡¯t do a whole lot of heavy lifting to accurately recreate that era or environment. ¡°Encino Man¡± and ¡°A League of Their Own¡± posters identify when the film takes place. Were it not for an absence of cellphones and the presence of a camcorder though, you might quickly forget ¡°Porno¡± doesn¡¯t occur in the present. A time tunnel trip back to the 20th century this is not.

More than that, the fictional folks populating a horror-comedy where religious theater employees inadvertently summon a murderous sex demon should have popping personalities equipped for a riotous romp. They shouldn¡¯t be less colorful than their real-life peers from my personal past and yet, they are. Closer to milquetoast than madcap, ¡°Porno¡¯s¡± plain peanut butter people instead set the heat on their fun and fright meters to room temperature. This results in a minor movie that¡¯s light on consistently inspired sparks of humor, and a setup like this screams for more sizzle.

After leading a group prayer that gets them through their Friday night shift, theater manager Mr. Pike leaves Chastity in charge for an after-hours employee screening. Chastity pines for Ricky, who recently returned from camp despite being suspiciously too old to attend. Abe has a tough time suppressing pubescent horniness. His goofy pal Todd can do it better, but only because he injured his right hand in a Peeping Tom incident. When not smashing cigarettes because he doesn¡¯t want his coworkers showing up to Heaven smelling like smoke, straight-edge projectionist ¡®Heavy Metal Jeff¡¯ dreams about his hardcore band becoming a ticket out of mom¡¯s basement.

We¡¯re obviously dealing with several stock character templates here. ¡°Porno¡± also puts an individualized spoonful of standard coming-of-age stuff on top of each person. It turns out Ricky wrestles with being in the closet, and the camp he attended was reprogramming him for straightness. Jeff dropped out of college and hasn¡¯t quite come to terms with feelings of aimless failure. Abe and Todd just want to gawk at bare boobs, but religious doctrine has taught them to keep their hands out of their pants.

¡°Porno¡± briefly flicks at emotional endearment in these moments, except none of these threads add value as truly transformative arcs. Issues come out in the open as a result of scares or stress prompting everyone to blow their stacks at one another. They¡¯re never substantially resolved however. Ricky walks into end credits without expressly learning it¡¯s okay to be gay. Abe and Jeff don¡¯t talk about the hurtful words they spewed at each other regarding pretend identities. Subplots without punctuation marks aren¡¯t really subplots. They¡¯re merely brief mentions providing an illusion of deeper meaning.

The movie makes most of its hay out of bloody splatter anyway. When a crazed hobo leads the teen team to a secret room hiding a cursed film, they unwittingly awaken a succubus who does as much slaughtering as she does seducing. ¡°Porno¡± employs some great gross-out gags when the going gets gory. An exploded scrotum gets showcased with close-up FX work certain to cause squirming, assuming your eyes are willing to stay open, while cementing itself as an immortal image that earned its own controversial page in Fangoria. These kinds of bits become the film¡¯s biggest stock in trade because ¡°Porno¡± falls short on traditional jokes. Comedy comes primarily from a vaguely humorous tone rather than physical pratfalls, dialogue written to be witty, or National Lampoon-style scenes you could picture Ryan Reynolds stealing.

Despite the hectic hell unleashed, everyone still finds weird ways to separate so someone can encounter the wicked woman alone while everyone else presses their pause button. Odd pacing of plot points sticks out like a sore thumb because of how ¡°Porno¡± strains to ensure only one thing happens at a time, even though framing positions the movie for rapid-fire antics.

Frankly, ¡°Porno¡± is surprisingly tame, and that¡¯s a word that has no business being associated with a film featuring multiple instances of testicular trauma alongside just as many shots of full frontal nudity. The ensemble doesn¡¯t create the flair to fully gel as a lovably motley crew. Afterthought drama comes off as slight. Muted humor rarely inspires laughing out loud. I don¡¯t recommend ¡°Porno,¡± although I don¡¯t have the heart to score it in the red either. Its earnestness means well, even if the effort turns into a flighty film struggling to fulfill the promise of a premise that should me memorable, not middling.

Review Score: 50