Film reviews and more since 2009

MaXXXine (2024) review

Dir. Ti West

By: Steve Pulaski

Rating: ★★★

The loud fashion, inspiring coming-of-age pictures, and bitchin’ music of the 1980s have been so overexposed in cinema as of late — why, look, another legacyquel to an 80s film series just got released on Netflix this week — that its impact is starting to wane. The commercialization of an era, as fun as its politics were punitive on America for decades to come, has become indicative of an ever-present malaise in our society compounded by rising prices, a lower quality of life, and whatever institution is trying to screw us over today.

Ti West’s MaXXXine affectionately paints the sleazy underbelly of the 1980s with brushstrokes of cigarette ash and blood. For him, this is an era defined by X-rated video shops, the Satanic Panic, a crusade against vulgar rock music, and the heightened consciousness of an American public witnessing brutal homicide investigations on their TV screen. West’s latest is the presumptive conclusion to his X trilogy, an unlikely franchise with an unlikely star, Mia Goth, at its center. His love and admiration for his titular character is undeniable, and I’m happy to report this is a mostly satisfying finale for one of the most endearing surprises in the horror genre this decade.

The last time we saw Maxine Minx (Goth), she had successfully attacked and killed two octogenarian psychopaths, one of whom named Pearl, who got her own 1910s-set origins story in the eponymous prequel. Presently, Maxine has been working towards her dream of making it in Hollywood. She’s acted in a plethora of adult movies, but now she’s in her early 30s and ready to make a name for herself in Hollywood productions. She auditions for a role in a sequel to a controversial horror film called “The Puritan,” and crushes it.

Maxine is on the verge of being the star she’s always envisioned — her father gave her a motto when she was little, “I will not accept a life I do not deserve.” — when she received a mysterious VHS tape turns up at her door with clips of the porno she was making in X. These clips connect her to the brutal “Texas Porn Star Murders” that could ruin her image and soil her career before it gets off the ground. Meanwhile, a shadowy figure hires a real dirtbag P. I. John Labat (Kevin Bacon) to stalk Maxine around Hollywood in search of a confession. In the background lurks The Night Stalker, a pervasive serial killer who has been killing all of Maxine’s friends and acquaintances, including a porn actress played by pop singer Halsey.

If that’s not enough, Maxine finds herself haunted by the events of X. Her first brush with PTSD comes when her head is placed in a plaster cast, launching her into a panic following a series of vivid flashbacks.

West’s X trilogy has proved itself to be smarter than its surface suggests. If X was a look inside the sexual liberation of the 1970s, Pearl was a young woman’s rebellion against the aggressively puritanical 1910s. MaXXXine‘s commitment to the seedier side of the Reagan-era 1980s is stylized impeccably. Cinematographer Eliot Rockett shoots Hollywood with all the sleaze of a gangway, where even the afternoon sunshine seems to illuminate the city’s inherent dirtiness. West edits the picture himself, and treats us to scene-sweeps and a few suspenseful set-pieces that, unlike Pearl, aren’t burdened by heavy telegraphing. There’s a couple tremendous kills, one involving testicles (might not technically be a kill, but for his sake, you hope it was) and another making divine use of a car-compactor.

West populates the picture with many delightful supporting performances. Elizabeth Debicki plays the director of “The Puritan II,” and delivers a couple superb monologues about the difficultly of making it in a showbusiness. She compares a performer getting a big break to being “in the belly of the beast,” but a crucial mistake could result in the beast “spitting up” said actor. “The beast doesn’t always regain his appetite for you,” she tells Maxine. How’s that for a delicious metaphor?

Other side characters include a pair of homicide detectives (Bobby Cannavale and Michelle Monaghan), another actress in “The Puritan II” (Lily Collins rocking a terrific “scream” face), Leon (Moses Sumney), Maxine’s likable friend who works at an adult video store, and Giancarlo Esposito, Maxine’s agent I’d hire as my own if I had money and status. Sure to be divisive is Kevin Bacon’s scenery chewing performance. He attempts a thick-tongued Cajun accent, and his brushes with Maxine are excellent and unpredictable, at one point leading to a chase sequence in studio backlots.

Simply put, the world of MaXXXine is simply fun to inhabit, largely because you never know whether danger, eroticism, murder, or the opportunity of a lifetime will happen in each successive scene. The weak point is the climax, which is initially rocky and feels as if West’s inclusion of the Satanic Panic was the kind of thing that worked better on paper. I could think of a couple other individuals who would’ve been better served to have been revealed as The Night Stalker. Rest assured, West manages to land the plane with a light-hearted shootout followed by a strong final shot and an even stronger closing song (an overplayed 80s jam that nearly lost its power, until now).

While it might be time to put a bow on Maxine’s saga, I’m still not quite sure I want to leave this universe just yet. With this trilogy, West’s filmmaking abilities have advanced, particularly in the realm of creating believable periods in time. Here’s hoping an even bigger twist is “The Puritan” might not actually be a fictional movie after all.

NOTE: MaXXXine opens in theaters on Friday, July 5th, 2024.

My review of X (2022)
My review of Pearl (2022)

Starring: Mia Goth, Elizabeth Debicki, Moses Sumney, Michelle Monaghan, Bobby Cannavale, Giancarlo Esposito, Kevin Bacon, Halsey, Lily Collins, and Charley Rowan McCain. Directed by: Ti West.

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About Steve Pulaski

Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!

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