Maxxxine (United States/United Kingdom, 2024)

July 03, 2024
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Maxxxine Poster

Maxxxine has the ideas. It has the style. It has Mia Goth. But somewhere along the way, writer/director Ti West lost the story. And, when it comes down to it, a movie can have a lot of nice flourishes and a great performance but if the narrative is crap, does it really matter?

West has an obvious affinity for exploring and experimenting with past cinematic styles. In X, the first film of what has become known as the “X trilogy,” he immersed himself in the ‘70s grindhouse/softcore porn aesthetic. In the prequel, Pearl, he used ‘50s and ‘60s technicolor techniques to open up the pre-Talkie world of post-WWI motion pictures. Now, in Maxxxine, a direct sequel to X, he advances the story six years to the world of Grade Z slasher movies, mimicking not only their tropes but using production styles of that era to make the film. The attention to detail is admirable in that West uses it not only for the purposes of recreation but as a means of commenting on Hollywood during the 1980s with its cocaine-fueled misogyny and growing disinterest in non-commercial productions.

Much as West has been the driving force behind X, Pearl, and Maxxxine, Mia Goth has become the face of this unlikely franchise. Emphasis on “face,” because West loves close-ups as much as the camera loves the leading lady’s features. She doesn’t get as much of an opportunity to show what she can do with her eyes and lips in Maxxxine as she did in Pearl, but Goth is such a force of nature that she arrests the attention, often distracting from the idiocy of the script in which her character is mired. Goth is the reason to see Maxxxine. She’s almost good enough for everything else to fall away. Almost, but not quite.

When last we saw Maxine Minx (Goth), she was the sole survivor of the Texas porn shoot massacre. Now, six years later, she’s a star of XXX features, living a tawdry life in the seedy parts of Los Angeles and still chasing her star. Like the character Goth played in Pearl, she’s obsessed by fame – not just the fame that comes from performing sex acts in front of the camera, but the flavor that comes from keeping her clothing on and “crossing over.” Opportunity comes knocking in the form of a successful screen test for something called The Puritan II. The low-budget sequel’s director, Elizabeth Bender (Elizabeth Debicki), sees something she likes in Maxine and is willing to court the marketing risk associated with hiring a skin queen. Elizabeth sees herself as a maverick, one who’s not above making “a B-movie with A-movie ideas.”

But everything isn’t sunny for Maxine. The nightly news warns women to beware The Night Stalker (a real-life serial killer who haunted L.A. at the time) and Maxine has run-ins with creeps and cretins, including a knife-wielding sicko who corners her in an ally and a sleazy P.I. (Kevin Bacon) who shadows her every step. Two of her friends are murdered and the cops (Michelle Monaghan, Bobby Cannavale) become involved, but Maxine doesn’t trust the police. And there’s someone more dangerous out there who knows all about Maxine’s past and isn’t above using it to blackmail her into a face-to-face meeting.

West provides a variety of entertaining set pieces. One has Maxine cut off from the outside world as a plaster mold of her head is made – while blind to her surroundings, she begins suffering flashbacks and loses her grip on reality. Another has Maxine being chased through studio backlots that lead to the infamous Psycho house and Bates Motel. Moments like these, coupled with West’s dark sense of humor and Goth’s high energy performance keep things going for a while.

When it comes time to unmask the villain and unravel the mystery, Maxxxine doesn’t just slip into anticlimax, it goes off a cliff. Even granting that West is approaching this in tongue-in-cheek fashion, he owes us more than this. Aside from making no sense, it feels like an extreme cheat. There’s little doubt he’s playing with a certain trope (used most commonly in movies that played on Cinemax’s Friday After Dark), but it’s such a cop-out that it sours the entire experience.

Maxxxine is the weakest of the three members of the X Trilogy. It’s as if West and Goth were too enamored with the character to let her fade away, so they contrived a scattershot and ultimately unsatisfying way to return her to the screen. West recently indicated that, if Maxxxine’s box office warrants it, he has other chapters he could make. Although another West/Goth collaboration might be fruitful, I’m not sure we need more of Maxine. Her story is played out – it’s time to go in another direction.

Maxxxine (United States/United Kingdom, 2024)

Run Time: 1:44
U.S. Release Date: 2024-07-05
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Gore, Profanity, Sexual Content, Nudity, Drugs)
Genre: Horror/Thriller
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1