Perhaps the lineup of stars in Sebastian Gutierrez’s Women in Trouble (2009) guaranteed that it would do some business on DVD, because Gutierrez was able to finance a sequel fast enough that Elektra Luxx had its theatrical premiere in New York and L.A. barely 16 months after the release of the first movie. (And in that time he was also industrious enough to release another feature, Girl Walks into a Bar, also starring his real-life partner Carla Gugino, straight to YouTube.)
Maybe it’s because comedy routines tend not to be as funny the second time around, but in some ways Elektra Luxx is a disappointment. It’s not the clear advance that an indulgent viewer of the first movie might have hoped for, and the vignettes tend to be even more hit or miss.
The movie opens with Elektra (Gugino again), pregnant and out of the porn biz, teaching a class called “How to Act Like a Porn Star in Bed” at the local community center. (Hardly an implausible course offering in L.A.) The story follows her as she endures a long, long night of indignities, during which she will have a quickie with a private detective (Timothy Olyphant) in a case of mistaken identity, get stuck in a broken elevator with a naked neighbor (Vincent Kartheiser), and receive a visitation from the Virgin Mary (Julianne Moore) while taking a bubble bath.
Still mourning Elektra’s retirement is her biggest fan, Bert Rodriguez (Joseph Gordon-Levitt again, in an expanded part), who is still covering Elektra’s career in pedantic detail via webcasts recorded in his mother’s basement. Bert’s shrine and base of operations is invaded first by his younger sister (Amy Rosoft), who has decided she wants to be an Internet goddess too; Bert is such an innocent it never occurs to him what his sister’s strip-tease contributions would do for his website’s page views. A more life-changing visitor down here is Trixie (Malin Ackerman), a local checkout girl who sweetly if rather implausibly still wants to be Bert’s girlfriend despite the evidence of his porn fixation all around her. Bert and Trixie will become a couple, in a nice touch that reinforces Elektra Luxx’s theme of people maturing and moving past the porn industry.
More problematic for the movie, the third storyline is devoted to Elektra’s fellow porn star Holly Rocket (Adrianne Palicki), and her best friend Bambi (Emmanuelle Chriqui) as they go on vacation together. In the earlier Women in Trouble, Holly and Bambi’s misadventures are amusing because of the comic spark that Palicki brings to Holly’s constant malapropisms (and one filthy monologue that the actress probably deserves some kind of award for), and in contrast, because of the worldly edge that Chriqui brings to the opportunistic Bambi — thankfully, the character is no sentimentalized hooker with a heart of gold.
But in Elektra Luxx, too much of Holly and Bambi’s screen time is squandered on a dud storyline that has them acting as gold diggers at a Mexican resort. The humor is atypically strained, with the script relying on Holly’s malapropisms as a comic crutch for lack of any more inspired material. For once Gutierrez lets down his actresses with the material he gives them.
Lovable nitwit Holly finally comes out to Bambi during a long monologue set in a restaurant bathroom. It’s characteristic of the mechanical farce at work in the script that just as Holly bares her true feelings, a toilet flushes and an embarrassed middle-aged woman emerges from a stall: “Sorry, I couldn’t wait any longer.” These comic interruptions land exactly where you expect them to, and the scene is just the latest in a series to feature a long dialogue punctuated by outrageously raunchy lines, blithely delivered.
Apart from a fantasy musical number where Elektra struts her way through a sub-Fosse routine, the movie adheres to this formula, particularly in the second half: Each scene lasts about eight minutes and generally features two characters talking to each other…and talking, and talking. Each vignette includes some smutty lines to spice things up, and an inevitable comic denouement, but monotony sets in. The lack of dramatic or comic momentum makes Elektra Luxx feel slack, even leaden, when it should feel much more buoyant.
Adrianne Palicki and Joseph Gordon-Levitt are consistently amusing here, but too much of the rest of the movie feels enervated. Elektra herself is reduced to a largely reactive straight woman during the sluggish second half. After the relative success of Women in Trouble Gutierrez was reportedly planning an Elektra trilogy, but after this follow-up it’s hard to see any pressing reason why we need to see these characters again. If a comedy routine is less amusing the second time, a third go-round would run the risk of just beating the material into the ground. Gutierrez should instead reconvene his talented cast and give them something completely different to do.