The tagline on the poster for "Meet Monica Velour" reads "Fantasy Meets Reality," an announcement made underneath the image of a stone-faced and scantily clad Kim Cattrall leaning her right foot against a stripper pole. It's intended as a splashy encapsulation of the plot, in which horny 17-year-old Tobe (Dustin Ingram) hits the road in search of his favorite porn star (Cattrall) and discovers a tired, middle-aged woman past her prime. Instead, the one-sheet conveys exactly what the movie attempts to deconstruct: The empty-headed showiness of a candy-colored sex romp and the underwhelming truth behind it. Like the poster, "Meet Monica Velour" is engaging to a point, but leaves much to be desired.
Writer-director Keith Bearden, making his feature debut, shows plenty of promise during the movie's early scenes, in which the geeky Tobe finishes high school and submerges himself in his vintage porn collection. Frustrated by his dull routine working in a taco truck, he heads to a rural town in Iowa to deliver his wiener-mobile to an irreverent collector. While there, he tracks down Monica at a cheap strip club, where the washed-up actress has doomed herself to awkward late-night routines. Booted from the club for lacking the vitality of the younger dancers, Monica hesitantly accepts Tobe into her life, or at least what's left of it. Living alone, divorced and struggling to regain custody of her young daughter, she finds a source of solace in her young, clueless groupie.
A more believable Napoleon Dynamite, Tobe's naive fan worship is nicely embodied by Ingram, but Cattrall dominates the show, going for an ugly-natural look by showing the wrinkles in her face sans make-up. Together, they maintain a basic chemistry that carries the movie through a series of familiar motions. Before long, Tobe finds himself munching Cheetos on Monica's couch as the duo watch her glory days on VHS tapes. Eventually, Tobe's affinity for Monica develops until he becomes intent on rescuing her from an unruly lifestyle.
This amiable mission never really goes anywhere and the strong performances in "Meet Monica Velour" fail to rescue it from a series of conventional developments. The contrast between Tobe's obsession with Monica and her insistence that he leave town to see the world is earnest but uninspired. Meanwhile, Monica's crotchety shtick grows as tiring as the character. (Her dry one-liners include,"You're only as good as what's in your bra and panties," and "You screw a few hundred guys and the whole turns against you.")
Back to that poster: What works about "Monica Velour" has nothing to do with peeling back the onscreen fantasy of Cattrall's unhappy dame. Bearden's sympathy for Tobe succeeds in making the porn hobby less creepy (he waxes poetic on the career of Russ Meyer and his ilk). And while Cattrall's performance is worth calling out, the real journey lies in Tobe's perspective. But he's nowhere to be found on the one-sheet, which makes the marketing gimmick more of a fantasy than the one mentioned in its unfortunate tagline.
HOW WILL IT PLAY? Given Cattrall's questionable star power and mixed reactions to the film since its Tribeca Film Festival premiere last year, "Meet Monica Velour" is unlikely to gain much traction in limited release, but may eventually find a comfortable home on VOD.
criticWIRE grade: B-
Anchor Bay Films will release "Meet Monica Velour" on April 8.