Women in Trouble
Directed by Sebastian Gutierrez
As a screenwriter, Sebastian Gutierrez specializes in campy, hooky horror like Gothika, Snakes on a Plane, and the U.S. remake of The Eye. Behind the camera, though, he seems to want to remake Pedro Almodovar for Los Angeles: Women in Trouble goes for that mixture of melodrama and saucy comedy, and even name-checks Almodovar in the end credits, listed first under special thanks. It's a neat idea, to follow a bunch of intersecting female-centric stories that don't have much to do with love interests or worrying wives, especially when he casts underused actresses like Carla Gugino in rare leading roles.
It's too bad, then, that literally half of the major characters, including Gugino's part, are hookers and/or porn stars, particularly when Gutierrez doesn't bother contradicting damaged-goods sex worker cliches. He comes close with Adrianne Palicki, playing a klutzy, ditzy, but extremely cheerful porn beginner; she has a dark secret, of course, but she's never played as a walking tragedy. Her scenes with fellow worker Emmanuelle Chriqui have a little snap, although Gutierrez's dialogue makes you appreciate Tarantino's heightened treatment of mouthy female bonding in Death Proof. Palicki and Chirqui approximate some of that playful contentiousness, but their snappish back-and-forth sometimes sounds fakey and strained.
They have some funny exchanges about the Virgin Mary, and the movie begins with Elektra Luxx (Gugino, playing a more successful porn star) dressed as a nun, but the movie's Catholic hang-ups don't always seem quite so self-aware; Gutierrez gets a lot of mileage, maybe too much, out of the virgin-whore dichotomy—only, most of the time, hold the virgin. The narrative nudges Elektra Luxx in the direction of giving up her sinful life; fair enough, but there's no real indication that her job presents an actual problem apart from her clich�ƒ©d porn-star backstory.
Gugino is nonetheless fine, grounded and reasonable, as Luxx, though one of her best scenes doesn't arrive until after the credits, when she and Palicki have an interview with a sleazy internet journalist played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Josh Brolin and Simon Baker turn up briefly, too, but Guiterrez knows to keep the men marginal; the women turn to each other for emotional and sometimes physical support, the latter perhaps to the point of male fantasy. It's a fine line—as is the one between admirable sex-positive frankness and even more male fantasy about how often that frankness occurs while great-looking women hang out in their underwear. Every main character strips down that far at some point, so I guess it counts as a motif, like the pleasingly garish reds and pinks that make the movie resemble, at times, sort of an Almodovar-themed strip club.
Women in Trouble breezes by, and only a few of the story threads are outright duds, but it's neither eventful nor observant enough to make much impact. Gutierrez has apparently already filmed a semi-sequel titled Elektra Luxx, following Gugino's character shortly after the events of this film, and Women in Trouble is just good enough to render that follow-up intriguing. The director's real-world support for Gugino, erstwhile muse of fantasists Robert Rodriguez and Zack Snyder, is heartening; maybe he just needs some more practice to craft a movie worthy of her.
Opens November 13