Give Judge Bill Gibron a movie about harlots and you'll hardly hear him complain. Unfortunately, he found very little to like about this lackluster slattern drama.
How much sex is enough?
Beaty (Helen Mirren, Gosford Park) is a broken down B-girl looking to get her streetwalker lifestyle jump-started again. Emory (John Shea, Mutant X) is a widower who works the lights in a local cabaret. He takes an instant liking to this sad and lonely woman. She thinks he's a fool. Naturally, they end up together, sharing a flat and dreams of a better life. Still, Beaty can't resist the lure of quick money and Emory is increasingly jealous of her carnal career calling. Even as they talk of "retirement" and caring for her impressionable young son, the pair can't come to a meeting of the minds. Then one day, Beaty's "ex" - ex-husband, ex-pimp, ex-drug dealer—shows up and Alex (Paul Angelis, B. Monkey) isn't happy about the current living arrangements. He wants his woman back and doesn't mind using violence and intimidation to achieve it. Then in the midst of all the interpersonal problems, a secret from Emory's past comes calling. His name is Max (Murray Salem, The Spy Who Loved Me) and, aside from the strangely homoerotic attraction that exists between the two, this arrogant American claims that he and his old friend used to be involved in some shady dealings. Now he wants his buddy to help him with one last score. Seeing it as a way to help him steal Beaty away, Emory agrees. Eventually, Alex is recruited. Emory thinks it's a way of killing two birds with one stone, so to speak, since he'll do anything to keep his Hussy.
Hussy is a terrible movie. It offers little in the way of emotional or dramatic intrigue, and takes what seems like cinematic eons to get to its rather vapid points. Captured within this sorry slice of 1980s- era British celluloid is a decent performance from headlining star Helen Mirren, a zombified turn by John Shea, who is completely out of his element here, and a scene-stealing sequence from a Third Act narrative catalyst known as Paul Angelis. There is also a significantly sleazy setting, a gaudy and gauche gentleman's club that provides puffy male customers the female companionship they otherwise could never achieve. Toss in a little gratuitous nudity, a bratty little boy who prods the exposition out of people, and the most sexually-confused drug smuggler in the history of the crime genre and you've got a potentially potent—but in this case, problematic—production. All that's necessary is a novice filmmaker with no previous credits to allow his ambition to overwhelm his ability. Wouldn't you know it, the onscreen credit "written and directed by Matthew Chapman" gives us the final piece in this pathetic puzzle. A first-timer whose naiveté is palpable, obviously unskilled at motion-picture practicalities like consistency of tone and clarity of narrative purpose, Chapman clouds everything in a veil of unspoken passions and illusory personal secrets. The result is a sloppy character study that actual infers more than it reveals.
For the most part, Hussy is set up to be an unlikely romance. It's the pairing of two incredibly needy individuals—Mirren as a down-on-her-luck whore, Shea as a shady slacker type who may or may not have killed his first wife—who can't connect. Even when they have sex, the specter of Mirren's job and Shea's sinister past keeps cocking up their physicality. As individuals, neither character is considerate, engaging, or revelatory. On screen, they're like closed doors with completely opaque windows. We can't see into them and they aren't giving away their most closely held dimensions. As a result, we don't really care what happens to them. When an obese customer manhandles Mirren, using the bulk she's recently ridiculed against her, we can't work up the concern to care. She appears to deserve it, her smart-ass demeanor belittling everyone around her. When she and Shea take up together, we don't understand the initial attraction. Later, when their relationship takes on the "pie in the sky" dimensions of puppy love, we are nauseated that people this world weary would turn all wistful. Then Angelis arrives, all drunken pimp bravado and tripwire anger, and the foreshadowing is so severe that the director could have ended the movie at exactly this moment and saved the audience a great deal of narrative aggravation. Even when it eventually fails to deliver on all the doom and gloom it portends, Hussy hems and haws right up until the very last shot. It tweaks and tests us so often that we just want it over with.
In fact, Chapman should have never attempted to realize this mixed-message mess in the first place. There is not enough crime here to feed gangster fans, too little believable interpersonal chemistry to appease the Rom-Com crowd. The nudity is a non-issue, as is the sex, since both are handled with a typical late '70s/early '80s sense of sterilization and propriety. Even the interspersed musical numbers and cabaret performances meant to comment on and clarify the relationships involved are dour and uninvolving. We are so bored we barely register the correlation. With only minimal returns on such a massive amount of suggestion and storyline, with acting that deviates between decent and dull, and no real rooting interest either pro or con, what we end up with is the cinematic equivalent of that particular party guest who's loaded with amiable anecdotes, but is unable to deliver them properly. He or she just rambles on, completely unaware that they are leaving out details and changing the narrative elements halfway through the tale. Maybe in its day Hussy seemed like a scandalous slice of underworld vice. After all, Ken Russell delivered an equally controversial-looking turn when, in 1984, he turned Kathleen Turner into ice queen Judy with Crimes of Passion. Today, Russell's randiness is just pathetic. This is 2006 and we're far savvier than that. The only thing shocking about Hussy is how monotonous it is.
Speaking of sloppy, First Run Features DVD release of this "should have been forgotten" title is terrible. This PAL port over, complete with NTSC transfer issues (slightly sped up, ghosting) has numerous editing errors, some noticeable scratches, a real problem with color correction (unless people in the United Kingdom always look so shoddy and miserably milk white), and an overall appearance of age. The anamorphic widescreen image, framed at approximately 1.85:1, is a slipshod speckled mess. The Dolby Digital Mono is mechanical; the only extras are a photo gallery and a set of trailers. While one could argue that some additional content could help clarify the movie's production and purpose, Hussy is actually a hopelessly lost cause. It pretends to be a gritty and realistic look at lives on the fringe of proper society. What it ends up being is nothing more than an overreaching bore.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: First Run Features
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