Pornography: You love it. I love it. We all love it. Whether it’s soft-core, genitalia-free story-based skin flicks, or the hardcore stuff involving gondolas and low-friction Velcro, everybody has an itch that pornography can scratch. And it’s nothing to feel ashamed of or disgusted by, even if you spent 12 years in Catholic school where they try to convince you that every sexual impulse is a sin and must be purged from your body, with the raw power of a blonde-haired, blue-eyed Jesus. We should all be very happy we live in an age where pornography isn’t relegated to skeevy theaters and video stores with blacked-out windows, velvet curtains and a guy named Steve, who seems to stare at the patrons with an uncomfortable gaze.
The internet really took pornography to the next level. Think about living in a time when pornography came on bulky VCR tapes that had to be locked away and stored. There were so many extra steps with pornography before the internet became our collective online sex shop.
Movies about pornography are interesting propositions because, most of the time, they pull the curtain back to reveal a layer of ugliness that precious few are interested in seeing. Movies about the pornography industry are like movies about fast food; knowing how it’s made is going to make you far less likely to enjoy the final product.
“Mope” is one of those movies that takes pride in being challenging. The opening of the movie might be its most profound, showing two dozen barely clothed losers getting ready to film a scene where they will unload on a single performer. It is unsettling and sets the tone for the dumpster dive into depravity that our main characters are preparing to undertake.
Steve (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett) is a young man, passionate about pornography. His dream is to work in the adult film industry and become a big star. There are only a few things holding him back: He’s socially awkward, his instincts are questionable, and he has an average-sized penis. In spite of these shortcomings, Steve is convinced, if he works hard enough, he can become a porn star.
Steve meets Tom Dong (Kelly Sry), another young adult film hopeful. They bond over their love of erotica and decide to make their dream a reality. They approach the head of a low-rent, fetish adult video producer, Eric (Brian Huskey), who gives the two friends an opportunity to perform in a series of adult videos—specialized content that involves kinks and fetishes, and has Steve and Tom enduring all kinds of physical punishment. Brian sees Tom’s value right away; not as an adult film actor but in helping him bring his fledgling business online. Soon enough, Brian’s struggling business is turning a profit. Steve, on the other hand, is a liability in almost every sense of the word. His worldview is painfully naive, and there are dormant mental health issues frequently bubbling to the surface.
Eventually, Steve manages to convince some other adult filmmakers to give them an opportunity in “real” adult films, but Steve’s penchant for crazy behavior gets them blacklisted. Tom has options, mostly, because he has other skills to fall back on, but Steved is a crazy wild card who becomes more separated from reality. Soon enough, his erratic behavior is making Tom question whether or not he’s hitched his wagon to a deranged horse.
“Mope” is one of those movies that never manages to defy expectations. From its earliest moments, I never believed Steve and Tom had what it takes to be adult film stars. There’s never a meteoric rise that sets up a subsequent crash—just brutal reality being served on a cold plate repeatedly. While Steve is sympathetic, he’s not really likable, and his eventual descent into madness is somewhat predictable within the film’s first few minutes.
The movie is based on a true story and might make for an interesting documentary, but as a narrative feature, it lacks surprise, intrigue and likable characters. “Mope” is like a bad adult film: messy and the leads lack chemistry.