Sex Sells


by Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Reaching deep into the well of post-modernism, Sex Sells is a mocumocumentary, which I suppose to be the right word for a film which is a comedy about the making of a mocumentary. Or maybe it just is a mocumentary which occasionally breeches the fourth wall. It doesn't matter much, because at its core it is really a heartfelt soap opera about normal people in an abnormal business, although the drama is filtered through a lens of comedy, and sometimes even absurdity.

We find out that Chuck Steak is the real name of one of the adult film world's most prolific directors. His first name is Charles, and his Slavic last name is pronounced "stee-ak." He's a bright and savvy guy, mid 40ish, knows his Shakespeare, and is pretty much of a father figure to his repertory cast of porn stars. He's at that point in his life where he's ready to abandon porn and move on to other endeavors, so in his final film, "Touché," he hopes to go out with a bang, or rather a record number of bangs, by filming the largest orgy in the history of porn. The creation of Chuck's swan song is being documented or maybe mocumented by a naive young filmmaker named Bernard Hyman.

You can tell from that brief description that Sex Sells was never intended to be a 3000-theater blockbuster, but the summary belies the fact that it is a surprisingly mainstream movie. The characters are decent people. The director is an avuncular and unthreatening person who has a businesslike attitude toward his filmmaking, and could well be Scorsese except that when he's discussing lighting, his primary concern is the proper illumination of labia. There is nothing lascivious about his approach, and he takes the same efficient, problem-solving, matter-of-fact tone on all matters, whether discussing where to get lunch or who will sodomize whom in the big orgy. If you didn't know he ran an porno film studio, you could easily mistake him for a beloved high school football coach, or a friendly manufacturer's rep pitching his line to Wal-Mart. The stars of the porn film are also real people with a realistic variety of attitudes. The story centers around one female member of the cast who is only hanging around to get acquainted with her mother, a jaded porn veteran (Priscilla Barnes of Three's Company fame) who is unaware that her co-star is the daughter she had to give up a quarter of a century earlier.

The weakness of the film is that is takes an inconsistent tone and attitude toward its subject matter.

* At times it is a scathing satire of the porn business which incorporates exceptionally accurate details to portray the industry, in the manner of Boogie Nights.

* At other times it is over-the-top absurdist comedy. For example, the film's male star (Adrien Zmed of T.J. Hooker fame) has a 42-inch penis which can become erect upon command, and one of the women at the porn film audition recites a Shakespearean soliloquy and expects to get a part without removing her clothing.

* At still other times it brings real human interaction to the forefront and concentrates on a budding love story as well as the woman's search for a connection with her long-lost mother. A special nod to Priscilla Barnes. Her character is too old to be in porn, having been born in 1960, but Priscilla herself was actually born in 1955. Not many 50-year-old actresses would have been willing to play this part, and of those willing, perhaps none would have looked as good in the buff.

By moving too frequently back and forth between those three modes, the film fails to be really good at any of them. At times it seems to be saying "Look, we can be incisive and true-to-life," but then pulls back from reality and starts to show the star knocking things over with his personal yard stick. To be honest, those cheap laughs sometimes work quite well, but they reduce the impact of the realism in other scenes, as if to say, "Gotcha. Guess what? You're not supposed to take any of the other stuff seriously either." After seeing the absurd elements, I felt like a sucker for buying into the storyline, because I figured the author also meant the plot twists to be satirical. That is a shame in many ways, because the film presents quite an interesting look at the adult film industry when it sticks close to reality, and some of the actors are quite capable. And the soap opera is reasonably engaging with a few unexpected twists. The writer probably would have been better off passing up the cheap laughs.

Despite all the odd tone shifts, the film kept me involved in the story about half of the time, and in the other half it still managed to kept me watching because there was something funny or raunchy or otherwise interesting going on. Since I never touched the fast-forward button, the film passes my basic hurdle for a qualified recommendation.

To tell you the truth, I kinda liked it. 

If only I knew which parts I was supposed to believe.


* widescreen anamorphic








50 (of 100)


4.7 IMDB summary (of 10)




Box Office Mojo. It was budgeted at $47 million for production, and the distribution/advertising costs are estimated around $30 million. It did nine million in its first five days, in 2400 theaters. (On the average, the studios get about 55% of box office receipts, the theater owners 45%.)




  • Several women get naked in the audition scene.
  • The orgy scene is not explicit.
  • Priscilla Barnes shows her breasts and buns, and looks terrific for age 50.








Our Grade:

If you are not familiar with our grading system, you need to read the explanation, because the grading is not linear. For example, by our definition, a C is solid and a C+ is a VERY good movie. There are very few Bs and As. Based on our descriptive system, this film is a:

C or C-

It's difficult to rate because it's inconsistent. It has some dodgy, amateurish elements, but it also has some positives.