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updated: 8/8/2013 1:10 PM

'Lovelace' a tepid retelling of a terrible tragedy

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  • Adult film star Harry Reems (Adam Brody) prepares for a scene with Linda Boreman (Amanda Seyfried) in the biographical drama "Lovelace."

      Adult film star Harry Reems (Adam Brody) prepares for a scene with Linda Boreman (Amanda Seyfried) in the biographical drama "Lovelace."

  • Video: "Lovelace" trailer

 
 

"Lovelace" tells the story of pioneering 1970s porn queen Linda Lovelace from two perspectives.

First, the public view of how a young Catholic woman achieved fame by using her freckled, girl-next-door appeal to revolutionize the seedy porn business by starring in "Deep Throat," the groundbreaking X-rated comedy hit that attracted mainstream couples into America's adult movie theaters for the first time.

The second view, from the star's perspective, comes later, when "Lovelace" replays the events we've just witnessed, this time with the behind-the-scenes rape and violence that her husband Chuck Traynor meted out to keep his new wife functioning as a moneymaking sex slave.

Stripped of its salacious subject matter, "Lovelace" is standard Lifetime cable channel boilerplate stuff: innocent girl hooks up with fascinating man who abuses her. She survives, stronger and smarter, and writes a book about her ordeal, this one succinctly titled "Ordeal."

Directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, "Lovelace" goes through its made-for-TV paces, buoyed by a terrific cast that supplies the movie with modest dramatic sparks.

Amanda Seyfried (taking over for original star Lindsay Lohan) brings a sunny, salubrious appeal to Linda Boreman, the relatively sheltered daughter of a cop (Robert Patrick) and his stoically traditional wife (former sex symbol Sharon Stone).

An older, seemingly more sophisticated man named Chuck (Peter Sarsgaard in an amazingly restrained, perfectly measured performance) sweeps her off her feet. He's attentive, sweet and polite. And very worldly.

He teaches his young bride sex skills that impress legendary adult film director Gerard Domiano (Hank Azaria) and his producer (Bobby Cannavale) so much they're willing to overlook the fact that the skinny Linda doesn't conform to the standard adult star image.

Linda takes the stage name Lovelace and makes movie history with her effusive co-star Harry Reems (played with light charm by Adam Brody).

Meanwhile, Chuck personally takes charge of Linda's career, her finances and every aspect of her life.

A prisoner in her own home, Linda finally escapes and seeks harbor with her parents. But Mom turns a deaf ear and tells her daughter she has taken a marriage vow and must obey her husband.

This story follows the similar path of Bob Fosse's lacerating 1983 biopic "Star 80" in which Eric Roberts' abusive husband shotguned to death his sexy wife, Playboy Playmate Dorothy Stratton (Mariel Hemingway), rather than lose control of her. (It's no coincidence that Roberts plays the lie-detector operator at the beginning of "Lovelace.")

Cliff Robertson's spot-on performance nailed the Hugh Hefner persona in "Star 80," unlike James Franco's blandly tentative portrayal here. At first, Hefner comes off as a media demigod. In the later replay, Hefner is revealed to be just another abusive male who uses Linda for his own gratification.

The true, sad story of Linda Lovelace has never been rendered better than writer John Bloom (aka Joe Bob Briggs, the world's greatest drive-in movie critic) in his book "Profoundly Disturbing."

In a tight, conversational, short story format, Bloom captures the essence of the girl who became a generation's sexual fantasy figure.

He writes with such detail and empathy that, by the end, you're touched by the tragedy that was Linda Boreman's brief life -- unlike the banal ending of "Lovelace," which closes with a screen crawl lacking any sense of tragedy at all.

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