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‘MaXXXine’ review: A porn star goes Hollywood as Ti West’s horror trilogy ends with a thud

Sorry to report: Even a mostly glossy cast can’t prevent Ti West’s “MaXXXine” from being a bring-down.

It’s a peculiarly static and distant third in the trilogy begun with the ripe and crafty 1979-set “X” and its giddily inventive prequel “Pearl,” set in 1918. With its 1985 Hollywood milieu, “MaXXXine” affords writer-director West, who knows his genre history, a promising immersion in the grubby, heavily saturated low-fi imagery of ’80s horror and thriller movies, preferably something with Betsy Russell or Kelly Preston. “Avenging Angel.” “Spellbinder.” “52 Pick-Up.” “Maniac Cop.” West’s storyline references directly some more widely known genre landmarks, notably “Psycho”; at one point, the Bates Motel and the adjoining “Psycho” house on the hill become part of the heroine’s personal backlot tour.

Mia Goth returns as Maxine Minx, eager to ditch the adult film industry for mainstream stardom. Her arrival in Hollywood coincides with the activities of a serial killer known as the Night Stalker, who’s terrorizing young women all over Los Angeles. But Maxine has her own private stash of serial-killing cred. “MaXXXine” takes place shortly after the “Texas Porn Star Massacre” events that concluded the “X” chapter of her eventful life. This time she’s out to nail the at-large predator, while taking care of her own career ambitions.

Her big break comes when one of rare working female film directors in the business (played by Elizabeth Debicki, evoking Kristin Scott Thomas at her iciest) casts her as the lead in “The Puritan II.” It may be a mere sequel to an ’80s horror project, but it too has ambitions — it’s what Debicki’s character calls one of her “B movies with A ideas.”

“MaXXXine” isn’t so lucky. Goth, who relished every nutty tonal swing in “Pearl,” dutifully goes through much narrower paces here, as dictated by the character we met in “X.” (In “Pearl” she played the elderly farmhouse maniac as a young woman.) The entire rhythm of “MaXXXine” feels draggy, even when the blood’s flying. If anything as slapdash as the climactic shootout behind the Hollywood sign in “MaXXXine” had made its way into West’s earlier features, I’m not sure he’d even have a career. And while there’s some payoff in the many visual callbacks to ’80s-and-earlier genre movies, at some point the filmmaker lost sight of how to best serve Goth a third time.

She and her fellow actors do what they can. As the shamus just begging for an early demise, Kevin Bacon (sporting a droop of a mustache that says I am a loser) knows how to convey his interpretive zest and enjoyment to an audience. So does Giancarlo Esposito, popping in for a few too-short scenes as Maxine’s agent and partner in corpse disposal.

When Maxine’s whereabouts intersect in mysterious ways with the Night Stalker’s victims, Michelle Monaghan and Bobby Cannavale start poking around as a pair of LAPD detectives with less interesting banter than the performers deserve. I feel like an ingrate singling out the one sour note in this ensemble, New Zealand stage actor Simon Prast, who returns in an expanded role as the televangelist we met in “X.” Here he can’t help much in salvaging the messy, ineffectual climax, or in managing his Texas accent and thudding delivery without sounding like an AI experiment.

Well. Anyway. Two out of three for any trilogy is pretty good.

“MaXXXine” — 1.5 stars (out of 4)

MPA rating: R (for strong violence, graphic nudity, gore, drug use, language, sexual content)

Running time: 1:41

How to watch: Premieres in theaters July 5

Michael Phillips is a Tribune critic.


Source: Berkshire mont

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