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Movie Review: “MAXXXINE” is a mixxxed bag

Friday, July 5, 2024 | Reviews


Starring Mia Goth, Elizabeth Debicki and Kevin Bacon
Written and directed by Ti West

Two years ago, Ti West delivered a true one-two punch with the releases of X and PEARL–and his star Mia Goth landed a one-two-three punch, with her impressive dual role in X and her horror-star-making performance in PEARL. Thus there has been plenty of anticipation for MAXXXINE, which caps off the trilogy by finding Goth’s Maxine Minx (née Miller) in 1985 Hollywood, six years after the events of X, attempting to claw her way up from the seamy underbelly of the movie business. Just as in Maxine’s first adventure, West’s enthusiasm for vintage genre cinema is all over the screen and Goth makes the most of her role at the story’s center–though this time, the results aren’t quite as captivating, or scarifying.

Part of the reason is that the most of Goth’s role isn’t quite as much as it was in the previous two films. There’s quite a lot of emphasis on the positive and (mostly) negative forces surrounding Maxine, to whom we’re introduced as she nails an audition for the slasher sequel THE PURITAN II. (Since MAXXXINE was in the works in 2022, it’s just a fun coincidence that it shares a motif with THANSGIVING, Eli Roth’s own homage to ’80s maniac movies.) Maxine has successfully made her name in adult cinema and is anxious to move up, and makes a statement after her reading evincing her supreme, brash self-confidence. A scene not long after, set in a dark alley, makes it equally evident she can handle herself in a threatening situation, and also features the movie’s most outrageously squirmy gore gag.

From the outset, West revels in his mid-’80s scene-setting, with appropriate songs on the soundtrack, appropriately gritty/contrasty photography by the trilogy’s MVP DP Eliot Rockett and Maxine hanging out with best pal Leon (Moses Sumney) in his video store downstairs from her apartment. The nostalgia isn’t just a gimmick, nor is it meant to do the film’s heavy lifting (as it is in, for handy example, BEVERLY HILLS COP: AXEL F); West clearly loves this stuff, and wants to share that love with viewers. Similarly, Goth is fully invested in Maxine, her ambitions and her struggles, and nails every side of the character, including her Texas twang. (“Is that your real accent?” someone asks Maxine early on, perhaps West’s cheeky way of acknowledging how well Goth submerges her native British elocution.)

And yet, there’s so much going on around Maxine, and so many sides of the sub-Tinseltown milieu West wants to explore, that she doesn’t get to make the kind of front-and-center impact that Goth had as Maxine/Pearl in X and the latter role in PEARL. Maxine starts getting blackmail threats from someone who wants to expose her involvement in “The Texas Porn Star Massacre,” as a newspaper clipping puts it, and she’s also being stalked by someone wearing giallo-esque black gloves who’s been claiming the lives of her fellow adult entertainers. On top of that, the action takes place during the reign of terror perpetrated by LA’s notorious Night Stalker, though anyone familiar with that case will realize that his m.o. didn’t match that of MAXXXINE’s villain, who likes to film his bondage/snuff-style crimes. What he’s doing for real echoes Maxine’s on-camera activities as she begins work on THE PURITAN II, though not enough is made of this promising theme.

Instead, there are colorful turns by Giancarlo Esposito (wearing a comically awful toupee) as Maxine’s helpful agent, and Kevin Bacon as a sleazy detective/go-between for the blackmailer. Bacon’s presence is in itself an ’80s-slasher callback, of course, as he began his career in FRIDAY THE 13TH, and at one point he’s styled to resemble CHINATOWN’s Jake Gittes…though his N’awlins drawl might put many viewers more in mind of Daniel Craig’s Benoit Blanc in the KNIVES OUT mysteries. Also in the mix are Elizabeth Debicki as THE PURITAN II’s no-bullshit director, who takes Maxine on a field trip to the backlot Bates Motel and PSYCHO house, and Michelle Monaghan and Bobby Cannavale as a good cop/bad cop investigating the slayings.

There is, as you can see, a lot going on in MAXXXINE, and it’s never less than an entertaining immersion in all kinds of bad behavior and the attempts to overcome it. Yet it lacks the true escalating dread of X and the character depth PEARL achieved. Moreover, a major final-act reveal requires a real leap of faith in terms of buying what a key character has been able to accomplish. Fans of X and PEARL (raises hand) who have been looking forward to seeing West and Goth join forces again may well be satisfied with MAXXXINE, though even they may feel that it falls short of being the grande finale one might have hoped for.