Director: Ti West Screenwriter: Ti West Cast: Mia Goth, Elizabeth Debicki, Moses Sumney, Michelle Monaghan, Bobby Cannavale, Halsey, Lily Collins, Giancarlo Esposito, Kevin Bacon Distributor: A24 Running Time: 104 min. MPAA: R

There’s a lot of pressure on Ti West’s MaXXXine to bring the X trilogy to a strong conclusion. After two amazing films (X, Pearl) released in the same year, one would expect the final film to be a grand finale. This same sentiment can be felt in the script, where one of the plots involves a horror B-movie getting a more theatrical production. In that quest for a stirring horror sequel, this film sadly falls into a vat of vanilla 80s echos.

The determined porn star Maxine Minx (Mia Goth) has come a long way since X. Having survived her porn star co-workers being slaughtered on a rural Texas farm, she’s set her sights on Hollywood. While still working the porn game, she hasn’t taken her eyes off the prize, aiming to break out in the new horror production of Puritan II. Nothing will stand in her way. Not the competition, not muggers, not moral protestors, not visions of her father, and certainly not a noctural serial killer prowling about the streets. All of this has hardened Maxine to such a degree she has all the depth of a mostly silent Charles Bronson.

Maxine’s determination is so firm that she hardly flinches. This leaves too much room for several characters to chow down on their scenes. Kevin Bacon plays a pursuing private investigator who cackles and snarls every line to make sure his creepy teeth are front and center. Elizabeth Debicki plays a film director who seems to speak with expoistory ambition about as rigid as her big-shoulder suits. Moses Sumney is Maxine’s close friend and VHS nerd, but so much of their affection seems to be off screen as all their exchanges feel too quick and professional to be considered chummy. Michelle Monaghan and Bobby Cannavale are pretty much playing their dective roles straight and by the numbers. Giancarlo Esposito also feels like wasted potential considering this film gets him all dressed up as Maxine’s eccentric agent, only to force him into the covert villain role the actor has become known for.

There is simply too much happening in this film to make room for cool kills that involve Maxine stabbing nostrils, blowing out brains with a shotgun, and stomping on testicles in graphic detail. The serial killer plot phases in and out, rarely intersecting with Maxine’s filming. Perhaps the most baffling element is how the film wants to play with the Satanic panic of the era, but only for the final act of the film, treating the hysteria more as background noise with an almost inexplicable reveal.

More thought seems to have been placed in the accuracy of the era that any developments are smeared in blood and cocaine amid the flashy neon lights. So many ideas only feel like half-formed thoughts, unable to balance a serial killer thriller with a horror commentary on entertainment and faith. This leads to a lot of expository scenes where the actors have to put extra effort into dialogue that darts between dreary and stumbling with explaining every intention. There’s only so many 80s radio hits, dated fashion, and VHS effects can do to make this film not seem as though it’s going through the motions.

I wanted to love MaXXXine, but it succumbs to its own fame and 1980s alluring glaze. I thought back to how astounding it was that Pearl ended with Mia Goth’s intense expression holding firm and terrifying as the credits rolled. In MaXXXine, her face is present for the credits once more, but in the form of a prop head meant to look decapitated. There’s no better way to describe this film: a lifeless double of a far better original, hoping it’ll look real enough to buy the relationship to its predecessor.

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