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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 5/3/02

Rated X
Unrated Edition - 2000 (2001) - Showtime Entertainment

review by Adam Jahnke of The Digital Bits

Rated X (Unrated Edition) Film Rating: C-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/B/C+

Specs and Features

115 mins, NR, full frame (1.33:1), single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 1:04 in chapter 15), Amaray keep case packaging, audio commentary (with director and star Emilio Estevez and co-star Charlie Sheen), video interviews with Marilyn Chambers and Bernard Walters, still gallery, filmographies, animated film-themed menu screens with sound, scene access (24 chapters), languages: English (DD 2.0), Closed Captioned

Back in the porn industry's brief heyday in the 1970's, a handful of movies became so popular that even if you've never seen a porno flick (yeah, right) you're familiar with the titles. Deep Throat. Debbie Does Dallas. And Behind the Green Door, the 1972 fantasy from San Francisco's Jim and Artie Mitchell that introduced Marilyn Chambers to the industry. The Mitchell Brothers were fascinating characters, hauled into court in one of the most liberal cities in America to battle over the First Amendment more often than Larry Flynt, and taking on the mob with the help of the FBI to combat piracy of their movies. And, as if the story wasn't sordid and bizarre enough, Artie, the wild, out-of-control brother, was shot and killed by Jim, the responsible one, on a rainy night in the early '90's.

It's not hard to see why brothers Emilio Estevez and Charlie Sheen were interested in making a movie about the Mitchells. Unfortunately, Rated X isn't much of a movie. Instead of focusing on one aspect of the Mitchells' story and bringing it vividly to life, Rated X tries to cram in everything from their childhood to Artie's death in less than two hours. This approach dictates that the story is told in a very standard biopic fashion, familiar to anybody who's ever seen any movie biography. In fact, Estevez (who also directed) seems to be heavily influenced by movies like Oliver Stone's The Doors, which results in a movie full of Dutch angles, jump cuts, freeze-frames and a wide variety of film stocks. The approach works intermittently, but too often it seems to be working overtime to disguise inadequacies in the script or performances. Sheen is actually pretty good as Artie Mitchell, but the supporting cast leaves a lot to be desired. For instance, Tracy Hutson's performance as Marilyn Chambers pales in comparison to Julianne Moore's fictional porn queen Amber Waves in Boogie Nights. But this isn't entirely her fault. Hutson and the other actors aren't really given much to do other than show up. If the script for Rated X had zeroed in on one element instead of trying to present the life of the Mitchells' in its entirety, the supporting characters could have been fleshed out to a greater degree.

Made for Showtime, Rated X is presented on DVD in its original 1.33:1 ratio. The transfer is generally pretty sharp, with the different textures of the varying film stocks (including 8mm, 16mm and 35) really jumping out at you. The 2.0 stereo mix is okay. It's not especially dynamic, although there are a couple of interesting surround effects such as at the Green Door premiere, where the sound of the film comes from the rear speakers only. While it isn't a full-fledged special edition, some of the extras included on the disc are more enjoyable than the movie itself. Emilio Estevez and Charlie Sheen contribute a candid and funny commentary, with Estevez honestly discussing the limitations of working on a limited budget and on a tight shooting schedule, his problems with the MPAA, and the compromises necessitated by shooting the movie in Canada. Also included are video interviews with Bernard Walters, San Francisco's assistant D.A. during the Mitchell case, and Marilyn Chambers herself. These were quite interesting and I would have liked to see more of this sort of thing on the disc. The disc is rounded out with filmographies for Los Bros Estevez, Chambers and the Mitchells, and a still gallery of production photos from Rated X. These run with one of the abominable, pseudo-70's tracks composed by Tyler Bates for the movie over them, so feel free to avoid it altogether.

Rated X is nowhere near the level of Boogie Nights and that's fine. I didn't really expect it to be. But it should have been a lot more interesting than it is. The bar for made-for-cable programming has been raised substantially over the last couple of years, with both HBO and Showtime crafting original series, miniseries and movies that range from above-average to outstanding on a regular basis. Rated X is a disappointing throwback to the days when cable-TV-movies were just like network-TV-movies with profanity and nudity.

Adam Jahnke
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