Believing the world is ready for something new, two brothers fight the government, the mob, and each other to create a San Francisco porno dynasty. From the hit film, “Behind the Green Door,” to their live shows, they shock the city and make millions. With huge profits, willing women and drugs everywhere, they rapidly descend into a nightmare of excess that leads to their lives spinning dangerously out of control.
Emilio Estevez (The Mighty Ducks) and Charlie Sheen (Five Aces) bring the incredible critically acclaimed true story of the Mitchell Brothers, the original San Francisco sex entrepreneurs, to the screen in this daring portrait of pornography.
Rated X 7.25
eyelights: the casting of the Estévez brothers.
eyesores: its TV-calibre quality.
“There’s only one thing in life you can count on: your own flesh and blood.”
‘Behind the Green Door’ is one of the landmark films in the so-called Golden Age of the porn industry. Along with ‘Deep Throat’, it helped bring porn to the mainstream, and it remains one of the most financially successful porn productions in history.
Though I’ve seen the picture (albeit much later than you’d think), I knew very little about it when I sat down to watch ‘Rated X’, the 2000 Showtime bio-drama that takes a look at brothers Jim and Artie Michell, the filmmaking duo behind it.
The picture, which was directed by Emilio Estevez, and in which he stars with his own brother, Charlie Sheen, begins with a disquieting scene in which Jim is sitting in the dark of his house, on a stormy night, receiving threatening calls from Artie.
It puts in contrast the rest of the movie, which revolves around their relationship and their family loyalty: “Mitchells stick together”, their father insisted. And so Jim spent much of his time looking out for Artie, who always got into trouble.
Ultimately, while the duo were groundbreaking pornographers, the picture is more about their dynamic than about their achievements. Yes, ‘Behind the Green Door’ is mentioned. Yes, they won landmark cases in court. Yes, Jim and Artie’s fate was tragic.
But that’s barely touched upon here.
In fact, it sort of leaves you unsated at the end, because that‘s the stuff that really matters. Sure, the brothers’ relationship is important, but unless you actually care about them (for whatever reason), it’s not what drives one’s interest in the film.
‘Rated X’ does try to inspire sympathy, by showing their close-knit relationship with their parents, who support them fully when they open their own porn cinema (after having opened a studio a couple of years prior). It humanizes them a bit.
And it also tries to play up their story as a tragedy, as Jim introduces Artie to the lifestyle and watches him go down in flames while he kicks his own drug habit cold-turkey. It portrays the outcome as tragic, given that Jim swore to protect Artie.
…but ended up putting him out of his misery.
And everyone else’s.
There are mixed reports about how out of control the brothers were, but in this picture Artie is shown as having become a threat to everyone, having lost his grip on sanity completely. Meanwhile, Jim is shown as the moderate one, clean and in charge.
Who knows if that’s true.
One of the main problems with the picture that it all comes very suddenly: it builds up the image of Jim being the one with the cocaine problem, incapable of doing anything else. And then, suddenly, Artie gets out of hand and rapidly only gets worse.
It feels inconsistent.
Though it’s never brilliant, ‘Rated X’ gets too loose in the third act, clearly trying to ramp up the tension for an explosive finale, but doing it too abruptly. One moment Jim is clean, Artie moves into a country home with his family, and then it all goes to Hell.
It doesn’t quite work.
What does work, though, is the casting: although Emilio and Charlie were never the greatest actors, and turn in an okay performance, just having landed the two brothers to play the Mitchells is quite the coup – especially in light of Charlie’s own meltdown.
Is it art imitating life? Or life imitating art?
There’s also the casting of Tracy Hutson as Marilyn Chambers, who fills the porn star’s shoes quite nicely, looking lovely and every bit as pure as snow – though she didn’t get much of a speaking part. The rest of the cast was perfectly fine, but no more.
One thing that I found interesting about the picture was its soundtrack, which was devoid of the usual period music, though Tyler Bates’ score emulated a couple of songs at times (most notably The Doors’ cover of “Alabama Song”). It must have been a rights issue.
(In fact, Showtime couldn’t even get the rights to ‘Behind the Green Door’, so it couldn’t be recreate for the film.)
With a television production, it’s hardly surprising, and it explains much of the picture’s TV grade quality, from the make-up which hardly ages the brothers all the way to its visual quality. Estevez and Sheen wanted a 50-day shoot and got 36.
That’s too bad, because ‘Rated X’ could have been an excellent movie of the caliber of “The People vs Larry Flynt’; the Mitchell Brothers’ story is no less interesting. But a lackluster production and weak script will certainly hobble any motion picture.
Still it’s got the Estévez brothers as the m-f-ing Mitchell brothers!
And that’s plenty cool.
Date of viewing: Nov 6, 2016