MOVIE: X: NIGHT OF VENGEANCE (Action)
PLOT: “A jaded call-girl. A fledgling hooker. The night from hell.”
There’s a buddy cop movie cliché that when a movie starts with an officer who’s just announced his well-earned retirement, he’s just about to take on his last case — and the companionship of a rookie. This combination will kill him, just days or hours before he was going to hand in that badge and slip on his clunky white tennis shoes and start looking at Belize real estate.
That’s what we’ve got with Australian streetwalking slasher X: A NIGHT OF VENGEANCE, a roller coaster ride of violent, life-threatening sex that unfolds over a night so terrifying, you wonder how any criminal stays alive for a week.
Well, not all criminals. Prostitutes. And not the men, who also participate in sex shows for leg-crossing, champagne-guzzling Tupperware party hostesses in gold-leafed Sydney condos, like our two heroines do in writer/director Jon Hewitt‘s so-called steamy thriller. Just the females.
The tale of Holly and Shay (both played by stars of Starz’ SPARTACUS: VENGEANCE series, if you’re into the Lucy Lawless variety of sweaty historical re-enactment) approaches quality storytelling at times. It shows sex being unemotional entertainment, its sellers wandering through the same ice cream-eating crowds as bored families. But unlike BOOGIE NIGHTS, a movie about the sex trade that seemed to have an extra dimension when it came to the rote scenes of sex and car chases, X falls back on tradition: a prostitute has her friends commit a savage beating over “turf,” another can’t tell a simple lie that would allow her to escape forever from a murderously violent and not even cute boyfriend, and two accidentally witness a coke-dealing john’s murder — unoriginal scenes we can imagine exactly as they appear because we’ve seen them a million times before.
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X has its moments of good acting, ironic humor, artistic lighting, industrial HEARTS OF SPACE ambient music, and beautifully shot struggle. But not enough to save it from being bruise-sploitation, firmly entrenched in a land where, unaided, women are nothing but starving, sitting on the sidewalk or flinching on the bed, moving their chemically bleached hair aside to accept a diamond necklace as payment for nearly being suffocated, then mugged, then run over by a car, then handcuffed and kidnapped.
In this world, even the most responsible, forward-thinking hooker, diligently saving her money and practicing French for half her life so she can get out fails. The cheetah-lean newbie who observes this warning, in her first night on the street, manages to end up with a criminal’s aluminum briefcase of diamonds and cash and a tender, sensitive, handsome boy magician. Were she tough, she would recognize that she had more assets than the typical retired person after a conventional career. Shay instead buries her face into the magician’s snuffling rabbit and asks him to “disappear” her. They don’t show it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she then handed him the briefcase and asked him to invest that for her too.
The message is clear: Enter not these scary woods of midriff-baring shirts, floor-to-ceiling mirrors and sex for money, little girls! You’ll end up like Holly and Shay, who couldn’t be more cowed if they were wearing bells and chewing grass. Yes, they dabble in kicking ass. But they also give up — all the way.