Rated X

2000, Movie, 115 mins

Review

RATED X | X-RATED
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This made-for-cable movie, based on David McCumber's X Rated: The Mitchell Brothers, a True Story of Sex, Money and Death, features the marketing friendly hook of real-life brothers Charlie Sheen and Emilio Estevez (who also directed) playing porn pioneers Artie and Jim Mitchell. But there's more to it than the gimmick. The film inevitably streamlines and neatens up the Mitchell's spectacularly messy lives. But for anyone who missed the short but influential era of porno chic, it's an eye-opener, a primer on how we got here from there. The small-town sons of a small-time professional gambler (Terry O'Quinn), Jim and Artie grew up with chips on their shoulders and the shared ambition to get out and up in the world, without having any idea how. Sex was the answer: The '60s brought it up from the velvet underground, and Jim started making nudie loops for newly opened porn theaters. He and Artie bought their own theater in the Tenderloin district and kept a close watch on changing tastes in smut. The feature-length Behind the Green Door (1972), starring fresh-face novice Marilyn Chambers (Tracy Hutson), made them rich and famous. Their constant busts for showing obscene material, coupled with their flamboyant lawyer's first amendment-based defense and their own "we're just a couple of all-American boys" demeanor, kept them in the papers. But their personal lives were a disaster, crowded with wives and children and girlfriends (only a few of whom make it into the movie), clouded by drugs and liquor, and poisoned by deep-rooted sibling rivalry that eventually ended in murder. The film focusses so tightly on Jim and Artie that the dazzling cast of characters who surrounded them inevitably gets shortchanged; even "Ivory Snow porn queen" Chambers, one of hardcore's first superstars, gets short shrift. But the tangled relationship between the brothers, who escaped their white-trash roots, conquered sophisticated San Francisco and prospered beyond their wildest dreams until it all went terribly (you could even say biblically) wrong is entralling. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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