Compulsion (2003)

While it would be tempting to view Compulsion as a settling of the score between hot shot junior porn purveyor Axel Braun and his illustrious dad Lasse, in a former life actually a member of Italian aristocracy named Alberto Ferro, the accompanying making of sheds a vastly different light on the movie's genesis. Patrick Collins (formerly "Roscoe Bowltree"), who had founded the Elegant Angel production and distribution company as an offshoot of John Stagliano's Evil Angel in the early '90s, had just handed down the torch of general management to young Braun whose innate (hereditary ?) sense of style and sensuality had impressed him in a couple of features (The Bachelorette and Gigolo : A Love Story) he did for his European division. Six months into his new contract, Braun convinced the employer who had nurtured his embryonic talents to produce, and eventually star in, his complex and ambitious screenplay as the company's first 35mm film. Virtually built on the longrunning and hugely successful Sodomania series which was a harbinger of the genre now commonly known as "gonzo", Elegant Angel rarely bothered with plot, never mind celluloid ! Still, Collins agreed to take a leap of faith on this persuasive pedigreed pornographer, pumping funds into a project that would ultimately balloon to nearly three times its estimated cost. Psychology 101 majors could probably make an at least superficially convincing case for Collins representing a parental substitute for Axel's absent father, who sired – yet acknowledged – the son out of wedlock with an Italian mistress, as can be gleaned from the essential German documentary Ich, der King of Porn, but such endeavor might amount to little more than hollow artistic license. Let's just say that Axel has done daddy proud.

His Milan nightclub taken over by untrustworthy Irish partner O'Leary (Bryn Pryor, who went from being AVN editor "Mark Logan" to envelope-pushing carnal auteur "Eli Cross" but is billed here as "Robert April", in an exceptional non-sex performance), who framed him for the murder of duplicitous girlfriend Shelly (Ava Vincent, doing a Marion Crane), young screw-up Nick (Kurt Lockwood) returns home to imposing mobster father Big Charlie, a character played to perfection by Collins. Having just married the considerably younger Maya (Ashley Long), dad welcomes him with open arms, promising to put things right the way he has always done for a son who in return only seems to have disappointed him, starting with flunking out of law school. Sending his loyal black henchman André ("Mr. Bigg" aka former gay porn superstar Bam) to Italy to "take care" of O'Leary, Charlie's also quick to pick up on the budding attraction between his kid and the new Mrs. Rather than stand idly by, he enlists the help of Nick's slacker buddy Xerox (a surprisingly sympathetic turn by rarely more than stud meat Rob Rotten) to spy and supply photographic evidence of their illicit romance. Now, if this were a Hollywood movie, it would be immediately clear which direction the story should take. Characters would be swiftly judged and have to pay dearly for their betrayal. Things are not that cut 'n' dried in Braun's universe however.

Though genuinely infatuated, Maya proves to have a dark side that simply won't be suppressed, the reason why Charlie was attracted to her in the first place. Loving both wife and son, he doesn't want to see either one of them getting hurt. The film's single most heartbreaking line must be Maya's tearful plea to her calmly reasoning husband "I can change" in such a way as to convince herself more than anyone. British Long, a tall leggy beauty fondly remembered from the scorching group scene in Nacho Vidal's Back 2 Evil and whose dialogue delivery has been a tad wooden so far, really shines at this stage and her chemistry with Lockwood makes their nighttime poolside encounter sizzle. I won't describe the subsequent sequence set up to challenge Nick's devotion, save to say that it pushes the envelope in terms of feature-style fornication (generally more genteel than gonzo) without compromising its narrative integrity.

Simply one of the finest screenplays in adult in a long time, Compulsion takes a clear-headed look at romantic relationships, examining the meaning of long term commitment with refreshing honesty. Strong material demands equal acting to work. As in Jack Vincennes' underrated After Midnight, Lockwood shows great leading man potential and establishes a credible father/son dynamic with Collins, which is crucial here. While solidly performed by all, it's the combination of photography, editing and musical scoring that makes the sex memorable. Though the multi-talented Braun accomplished many of these tasks all by himself, he wisely relied on former Playboy alumnus John Luker to handle camera chores. Much sought after for his razor-sharp cutting skills, Braun drops the ball in a couple of apparently walk through dialogue sequences where you can occasionally hear actors feeding lines to each other, nothing dramatic but distracting nonetheless. The opening theme, I'm Not Afraid warbled by Braun and Belladonna (star of Stagliano's phenomenal Fashionistas), provides a perfect encapsulation of the film's shifting moods, ranging from tender to rough. For Pat Collins, the gamble paid off. Compulsion stands as one of the sterling achievements in adult cinema of the new millennium, establishing Axel as worthy heir to his father's lofty reputation.

Directed, written & edited by Axel Braun. Photographed by John Luker. Produced by Braun for Elegant Angel Productions. Starring Ashley Long (Maya), Kurt Lockwood (Nick), Patrick Collins (Big Charlie), Ava Vincent (Shelly), Bam (as Mr. Bigg) (André), Bryn Pryor (as Robert April) (O'Leary), Rob Rotten (Xerox), Aria, Gia Jordan (Lesbians), Rachel Rotten (Xerox's Girl), Katrina Kraven (Tina), Ramona Luv (Private Dancer), Mickey G, Jack Spade, Denis Marti (Maya's Violators), Flick Shagwell, Renee Pornero & Jay Ashley (Orgy Revelers). Running time : 122 minutes.

A chip off the old block : Axel Braun picks up where his dad Lasse never left off