Call him a big bully, but Judge George Hatch uses brute force on this wimpy excuse for a "men-behind-bars" flick.
What is tumescent porn? It's neither soft- nor hardcore. It pushes the "Not Rated" envelope, but doesn't quality for an "X ." And, with no "redeeming social or entertainment value" whatsoever, it doesn't even merit an "NC-17."
So where does that leave us hanging?
I was planning to give Locked Up one of my lowest ratings ever—somewhere in the teens—but the extras were a revelation. Two of the deleted scenes were brief, but decidedly pornographic. And a lengthy interview with the two lead actors, Marcel Schlutt and Mike Sale, confirmed that director Jörg Andreas was, indeed, attempting to shoot a porno film. Schlutt says, "I like pornography. I've only done this one so far, but would like to do more, because legitimate acting requires too much training." Sale says, "I would do another one with Jörg, if it had another good script…and if I was paid enough money."
The film itself still contains several explicit scenes, including genuine masturbation (but without the money shot), and a gang rape. The latter appears to be simulated, but maybe there were stronger images that couldn't be covertly inserted into the extras. There is an abundance of full frontal shots, and they are all carefully composed. Locked Up opens with a full-body and rubber-gloved cavity search. (Thanks for sparing us a "colonoscopy view"!) Director Andreas ensures that the title credits stay off to the sides so we always have an unobstructed view of the actors' goods. Provocative gym routines, trysts between cellmates (and their security guards) abound, as do the requisite naked showers—and, in this prison, everyone is more than willing to "drop the soap."
There is a "Not Rated" label on the keepcase, and a warning about "strong sexual content and frontal nudity." But I challenge the ethics of including stealthily edited sequences and extras that obtrude questionable material on unsuspecting viewers. Locked Up is part of TLA's "Guilty Pleasures Collection," but I was unable to locate any other titles in this particular category, or any information about the intentions behind it. TLA has its own Adult Video outlet, as well as an immense catalog of legitimate, often controversial, films of varying quality and content. I've reviewed several of the company's DVDs, and Latter Days earned one of my highest ratings.
When I logged into TLA's Gay Adult section, I wasn't surprised to find four other titles in director Andreas's "filmography." And I can't even quote some of the reviews on this family-friendly site. Sex Skins and Sex Pigs are typical fare, and porn film distributor All Worlds Video called the latter, ""Filthy, dirty, and disgustingly sexy!" Unfortunately, a search for Locked Up just led me to another hardcore DVD with the same name.
Perhaps TLA is trying to create a niche, some middle ground between sensual and sexually explicit videos, by duping people into catching glimpses of hardcore footage. These viewers may even feel "guilty" for having done so. Under the guise of extras and outtakes, this subversively strategic merging of content slips through the radar. For now, I'll call it "tumescent porn" because it's almost there…but not quite. (Guys, you know what I mean.) And I'll give it a new MPAA rating of TP—two initials with another connotation that is most appropriate for this movie. I am not against pornography, but TLA should be more specific when hardcore images are included on its non-adult DVDs.
Films such as Patrice Chéreau's Intimacy (2001), and Gaspar Noé's Irreversible (2002) are up front about their content. Both directors used explicit sex scenes to explore genuine emotional relationships, and they had professional actors willing to "go all the way" in order to make it believable. While I thought the brutal nine-minute rape of Monica Bellucci's character, Alex, in Irreversible could have been done in less than 60 seconds, the backwards time-frame and dizzying camerawork made it one of the most remarkable and shockingly original films I've seen in years. By offering up cheesy smut under the mantle of cinematic art, Jörg Andreas shouldn't be allowed to polish the shoes of these other two directors.
Locked Up is a no-budget, shot-on-video quickie about a biracial love affair between the newly-incarcerated Dennis (Marcel Schlutt), and long-timer Mike (Mike Sale), the token black man in the entire prison—and the only one who speaks English throughout this German film. Mike is in the eighth year of a 15-year prison term for murder; Dennis has been sentenced to two years for credit card fraud. Can a true relationship develop when Mike will still have six years to go after Dennis is released? Who cares? All that's explored—make that exploited—here is the sex. Corrupt guards sell drugs to "kingpin" inmates, who, in turn, have their lackeys spread it around. There are more brutal and repulsive set pieces than lines of dialogue; and not a single cliché is overlooked.
In one particularly odious sequence, the guards take turns spitting into a prisoner's mouth. This scene, by the way, was lifted from Todd Haynes's Poison (1991), an anthology of three intercut shorts, Hero, Homo, and Horror. Homo is loosely based on Jean Genet's erotically charged Un chant d'amour (1950). The Locked Up keepcase states that the "voyeuristic gay guards were inspired by" Genet's film, but the spitting scene was stolen from Haynes.
The whole film, in fact, gave me a sense of déjà vu. Dennis spots Mike twice digging a hole for no reason at all while a sadistic guard stands over him. Mike must have had a Cool Hand Luke-style "failure to communicate." Mike is allowed to keep two caged parakeets in his cell, and they are prominently displayed when he shares tincups of coffee with Marcel. Are those chirpers supposed to be a "birds-behind-bars" metaphor? They just reminded me of The Birdman of Alcatraz. Sex, drugs, and brutality are staples in every "men-behind-bars" movie: Short Eyes (1977), Midnight Express (1978), and Fortune and Men's Eyes (1971) to name but a few.
Unless it's mentioned in the opening credits (which are in German), no one has taken credit for the screenplay, either on the keepcase or at the Internet Movie Database. But better dialogue and real actors couldn't have saved the black-and-white-lovers angle. Marcel Schlutt is boyishly Tom-Cruise-cute and hosted a gay talk show on German television. He's personable and very animated in the interview, but in Locked Up, he just looks either sad or orgasmic, with no range between the two. I thought Schlutt was bad, until Mike Sale entered the picture. His performance is awkward, and his line delivery is several notches below the average cue-card reader. They must have named his character Mike so he would have one less word to struggle with. The guards all perfectly cast for their intended look: big, burly, and buzz-cut, but they don't sound "threatening" at all. Ya just wanna give 'em a great big hug, and tell 'em, "Find a real job in supermarket security, buddy. Maybe you can intimidate some housewife trying to feed her kid a free donut before checkout."
TLA claims this transfer is anamorphic, but I have crisper images on disc from my camcorder, and even 20-second clips from my old Nikon C-3030 digital camera. Like the anonymous scriptwriter, Falk Lux should not have taken credit for his cinematography. Christian Messer noodles the same few notes on an electric piano-organ for the score. It quickly becomes so monotonously annoying that I honestly believe he made a five-minute musical loop that is played throughout the film's 96-minute running time.
In addition to the interviews and deleted scenes, the extras include some silly outtakes, one involving that awful spitting scene. All of the actors found this hilarious, including the "spitee," with gobs of saliva covering his face. Yuck! There are three trailers for Cowboys and Angels, Bulgarian Lovers, and Bear Cub.
Locked Up is definitely guilty, and certainly no pleasure. I sentence it to life in solitary confinement.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: TLA Releasing
• Cast Interviews
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