Mike (Don McManus) is the proprietor of a series of porn websites, ranging in subject matter from violent rape fantasy to fan wish fulfillment. It is the latter site, Lucky Bastard, that concerns the narrative of this found footage flick. On that site, an average porn fan is given the opportunity to have sex with one of the porn stars that grace Mike’s network of sites, provided Mike can film it and use it to perpetuate the site.
From the opening scenes of the film, when we follow along with a police footage video, we already know the aftermath of what is to come before we’re even formally introduced to Mike and company. So we know this gets ugly, and the film is less about what will happen and more about how it happened, if that makes sense. Which is where the found footage concept comes in, as what we’re seeing is footage from either a handheld camera or the many hidden, and not-so-hidden, cameras set up all over the house the porn company is using for filming (a house that is also used for many a less overtly salacious reality show).
This time around, the “Lucky Bastard” is a seemingly meek and harmless Dave (Jay Paulson), picked to have sex with porn star Ashley Saint (Betsy Rue). And at first, all is fine (or as fine as this scenario can go), with the group chalking up Dave’s weirdness to being new to the stresses of such an experience (the fantasy of porn is quickly ruined by the reality of release forms and the matter-of-fact way sex is handled and discussed). When Dave’s big moment finally comes, so does he, prematurely, and the shoot falls apart. Which is when all the warning signs about Dave that the group ignored rear their ugly, creepy faces.
Again, though, we know from the jump that this ends badly for most involved. Couple that with the film’s NC-17 rating and a particularly intense sequence in the early going that offers an example of one of Mike’s more disturbing porn site’s content, and you’re set up to expect some rough treatment. Which is why it is odd when the film doesn’t really walk near that potential much after that initial impression.
Sure, there’s violence, but much of it isn’t explicitly seen, owing to the placement of the found footage-friendly cameras. The effects-work for what blood is involved is also predominantly digital, which doesn’t lend itself to visceral disgust. It’s not like this is torture porn.
The sexual content is also not that nutty (though it can get mean-spirited). There’s nudity, sure, and some suggestive angles, but it’s nothing worse than what you might see in any sex-friendly thriller on late-night pay cable (like the heyday of Skin-emax). Again, this comes down to the found footage concept, as many a camera is stuck in place; not many free-roaming cameras are capturing what’s going on, so it’s not like we’re seeing bodily fluids or penetrations or other likewise movie-rating bombshells. It’s a film about porn, so that element is represented, but not in such a way as to justify the stigma of an NC-17.
All I can think of is that early intense sequence being the catalyst for the severe rating, and the explanation being connected to the depiction of such depraved content and ideas. Frankly, the film doesn’t do anything that you’ve not heard about if you’ve ever watched a marathon of Law & Order: SVU. Then again, going with the reality, found footage aspect does present a certain level of rawness to things that can make it hard to discern reality from cinema, and maybe that was what tipped the ratings board.
For the most part, though, this film is pretty tame. Much of it is setup as we meet the different characters as they prepare for the shoot with Dave. Again, the found footage offers a rawness to the film, and the actors do a great job of melting into that false reality; the only one that stood out for me in that regard is camera guy Kris, because he was played by Chris Wylde (who not only has quite a memorable face, but also had his own TV show at one point).
Overall, Robert Nathan’s Lucky Bastard offers a disturbing scenario behind the world of online porn, and one that wouldn’t be all that surprising if I were to hear about it really happening in the news. While the film doesn’t specifically express any message about porn content and desensitization, I don’t think you can watch a film like this and not find that conversation in there somewhere, even if it is unsaid. I don’t know that this film is deserving of all the hardships that can come along with an NC-17 rating, but that could speak to my own shift in sensitivity after years of watching films for Film Threat; when it comes to sex and violence, Lucky Bastard pushes some buttons, but I don’t know that it entirely pushes the envelope.