‘MaXXXine’: This dull and dark Hollywood mystery doesn’t light up the big screen

“MaXXXine” (2024) – The year is 1985.  The place is Tinseltown, California.

Maxine Minx (Mia Goth) is reaching for glitz and glam. 

This adult film actress and dancer at The Landing Strip, located near an airport (LAX, we presume), wants to land a spot in Hollywood as a legit movie star and transition from a rated X career to a rated R or a PG-13 one. 

Maxine drives a white Mercedes convertible and possesses a “The Best or Nothing” air of confidence to make it show business, but she just needs someone to cut her a break due to the stigma of her current profession. 

The almost 33-year-old insists she’s not the next Marilyn Chambers but Brooke Shields. 

The last time we saw Maxine, she barely survived a 1979 murderous rampage in Texas in director/writer Ti West’s “X” (2022), and in “MaXXXine”, she aims to thrive in the movie industry and – unfortunately – elude a new killing spree in Los Angeles.

“MaXXXine” completes a trilogy of West’s moody and ferocious 70s slasher flick, “X” (3 out of 4 stars) and his even better “Pearl” ((2022), 3.5 out of 4 stars), a creepy and gorgeously filmed 1918 prequel that taps into the demented mind of the title character (also starring Goth), Maxine’s attempted murderer from the first film.

Here, West goes for a different vibe to close out his celluloid triad by offering a seedy noir, one that feels like Brian De Palma’s “Dressed to Kill” (1980) or “Blow Out” (1981), Paul Shrader’s “Cat People” (1982), or David Cronenberg’s “Videodrome” (1983), where intrusive, visceral violence may emerge in a moment’s notice in between lengthy stretches of discourse in muddy, disconcerting settings, minus the supernatural spurts of “Cat People” and “Videodrome”.

West’s film looks like (and carries a similar pacing as) the aforementioned 80s films and has a few legit jaw-dropping graphic moments of practical effects savagery.  Still, overall, the film is oddly missing actual suspense.  Additionally, the mystery around the serial killer’s identity, a copycat murderer of California’s infamous Night Stalker, is painfully evident from the get-go, so the ultimate reveal is just a formality.

In the first act, Maxine auditions for “The Puritan II”, a horror film, in front of a small assembly on a giant indoor set, with director Elizabeth Bender (Elizabeth Debicki) having the final say on casting.  Goth fascinates during her audition with Maxine’s light-switch abilities to turn on and off a stark range of emotions.  Maxine impresses us and Elizabeth!  She gets the part despite her adult-film past. 

(As a side note, West emphasizes that Maxine’s fame is widely known already, with at least two moments where a random man comments about his “respect” for her rated-X work.  These brief mentions help further define Maxine’s uneven and uphill power struggle to climb the entertainment ladder.)

However, after the audition, West’s screenplay never pens Maxine into another “The Puritan II” scene.  Besides one forceful confrontation with a slimy private detective, John Labat (deliciously played by Kevin Bacon, who seems to be having a ball), and a peepshow scene, West doesn’t ask Goth to stretch her acting muscles.  Maxine, initially blazingly confident, is primarily passive for the rest of the film’s sluggish 103-minute runtime.  She finds herself in Final Girl spaces in urban L.A. that look like “Valley Girl” (1983) meets “The Return of the Living Dead” (1985), instead of rural Texas, as a naive victim.  She’s a victim here and generally mute while this copycat killer, donning black leather gloves and a penchant for murdering those closest to Maxine, is on the loose.  

Goth – working with a lethargic narrative – gives an uninspired performance, but in a movie absolutely jammed with piles of 80s eye-candy and ear-candy references, like an old-school video store, a 1985 Brat Pack movie staple, songs from ZZ Top and Kim Carnes, and a particular new soft drink from the same year.  Just like West’s ventures into 1979 and 1918, in “MaXXXine”, he, cinematographer Eliot Rockett (who worked on “X” and “Pearl” too), and production designer Jason Kisvarday seem to devote boundless energy into 1985 world-building. 

It’s a tremendous time warp until Labat chases Maxine into a dance club’s bathroom, and he kicks open several bathroom stalls, which exposes the most horrifically unsanitary toilets that will make the shameful john in “Trainspotting” (1996) blush with disapproval.  For this former 80s teen, the scene snapped me out of the cinematic flashback trance because the bathroom sicko production design looked so over-the-top.    

Looking back, I wish the film spent more time ironing out the narrative’s kinks rather than focusing so much on the 80s.  Instead, Maxine’s hopeful journey lingers on Bender’s ultimate judgment for her film, but Debicki plays the director so cool and chill that she seems in desperate need of a 32-ounce cup of Jolt Cola, with “all the sugar and twice the caffeine!”

Meanwhile, the “unknown” killer lumbers from one humdrum slaying to the next, mainly occurring off-screen.

The third act devolves into a routine shoot ‘em up exchange, one as two-dimensional as Bender, Detectives Torres (Bobby Cannavale) and Williams (Michelle Monaghan), and Maxine too.  Giancarlo Esposito, Lily Collins, and Bacon, however, are bright spots in an otherwise dark and dull murder noir.

“MaXXXine” doesn’t light up the big screen, and that’s surprising, given the talented cast and gifted director/writer.  Ah well, two out of three ain’t bad.

⭐ ⭐ out of ⭐ ⭐⭐⭐

Directed and written by:  Ti West

Starring:  Mia Goth, Kevin Bacon, Elizabeth Debicki, Giancarlo Esposito, and Lily Collins

Runtime:  103 minutes

Rated: R

Image credits: A24

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