September 23, 2012

RETRO ACTIVE: Orgazmo (1997)

by Nick Schager


[This week's "Retro Active" pick is inspired by the James Franco-headlined porn drama About Cherry.]

Porn may be many things, but it's rarely very funny, a fact that's lost on Orgazmo, a 1997 comedy from South Park creator Trey Parker (who stars, writes and directs) that boasts no real joke other than the idea that a pent-up religious conservative making adult films is the height of contrasting-worlds hilarity. Parker's story concerns Joe Young (Parker), a sunny, simpleminded Mormon in California whose desire to return home to Utah and marry his sweetheart Lisa (Robyn Lynne) is stymied by his lack of money. While going door-to-door preaching the gospel to people who show disdain for his faith, Joe happens upon a porn shoot, and when he beats to a pulp the security detail attempting to evict him from the set, is selected by director Maxxx Orbison (Michael Dean Jacobs) to assume the lead role in "Orgazmo," a work of smut about a do-gooder who first saves, and then services, buxom beauties. This offer is anathema to Joe's beliefs, yet with $20,000 dangling in front of his big naïve eyes, it's one he soon takes, albeit with the understanding that he only has to act, and that all sexual feats will be handled by a "stunt cock"—which, in one of innumerable dead-on-arrival bits, eventually means that Joe is replaced during hot-and-heavy moments by an African-American man, to no one's concern.


Joe's decision to take this gig is played for pure absurdity rather than as part of a larger satire of Mormonism—a frequent Stone target, as evidenced by his and partner-in-crime Matt Stone's Broadway smash The Book of Mormon—and as such, it just lies there, inert and unfunny. Despite its set-up, there's no real attention paid to Joe's Mormonism in Orgazmo, which treats its hero not as a member of a particular faith but, instead, as a more general uptight-virginal prude who loves God and finds physical intimacy icky. That bland conception of Joe—and attendant disinterest in him as a member of a specific faith deserving either celebration or ridicule—is in keeping with neutered proceedings that habitually feign outrageousness while assuming the most formulaic and clunky approach possible. When porn starlets are about to remove their tops, Parker has their male co-star walk in front of the camera to fill the screen with a nude ass, a wannabe-amusing tease that dovetails with the more overarching depiction of porn as a decidedly unsexy profession. That stance may be valid, but it's repeatedly forwarded in illogical ways, as when Joe is forced to simulate sex on camera with a monstrous obese woman in a bikini who has the weird manly voice of South Park's Timmy.


As if Joe's new career weren't unbelievable enough, his maiden movie becomes a surprising crossover hit. Yet because Parker presents "Orgazmo" as merely a super-low-budget piece of trash—in which Joe co-stars alongside Ben (Dian Bachar), aka Choda Boy, a sidekick defined by his dildo headgear—the film winds up failing to provide a reason why mainstream audiences would embrace Joe's amateur-hour porn. By presenting this major plot development without ever making even a passing attempt to justify it, Orgazmo comes off as less absurd than merely sloppy and dense. That's also true with regards to a concurrent plot thread that finds Joe and Ben, in order to defend local hip-hoppy Japanese sushi chef G-Fresh (Masao Maki) from a trio of thugs, becoming real-life do-gooder versions of their porn characters, replete with an "Orgazmerator" ray gun whose blasts stimulate instant climaxes. It's not too long before someone's shooting a dog with this weapon, leading to furious leg-humping, which proves as depressingly lame as cameos by actual porn stars (Ron Jeremy, Juli Ashton, Chasey Lain), sight gags involving chaps and exploding dildo rockets, and blunt talk of filthy sex acts.


Late developments have Joe coping with Lisa's disgust over his profession and Joe and Ben's battle against Maxxx, who turns out to be the baddie trying to take over G-Fresh's business. And like the rest of Orgazmo, these scenarios are dealt with in such a tossed-off and excruciatingly unfunny manner that it's hard to ignore the wholesale formal ineptitude on display, with Parker directing as if visual attractiveness and lively staging were plagues to be avoided at all costs. Consequently, what's left is an unintentional mess overflowing with lame martial arts battles, unearned jabs at Utah (people pity Joe when he confesses it's his home state), and a quick conversation between Lisa and Ron Jeremy about whether porn exploits men or women (or both) that, like the digs at Mormonism, is half-baked and set aside in favor of easy punchlines, including gay-panic ones from Stone's dim-witted photographer. It's a comedy so inept that, though it recognizes the pitiful amateurishness of porn acting, staging and directing, manages to duplicate those very qualities without ever making such mimicry its central joke.

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Posted by ahillis at September 23, 2012 10:22 AM