STUDIO: Phase 4 Films

MSRP: $29.99


RUNNING TIME: 81 minutes


• 8 Deleted Scenes including The Party Doll and Two Men

• Theatrical trailer and unrated trailer

The Pitch

Porn.  But, without the sex.

The Humans

Starring: Michael Grecco, Sunny Lane, Joanna Angel.
Featuring: Jesse Jane, Ron Jeremy, Larry Flynt, and Jenna Jameson.
Written and produced by Charles Holland.
Directed by Michael Grecco.

Now, if it’s one thing I’d bet my life that these guys know about, it’s how to best pleasure a woman.

The Nutshell

Upon getting a chance to go to the AVN Adult Movie Awards, photographer Michael Grecco decided that his next project would be to shoot an entire coffee table book of porn stars during the three-day awards festival in Las Vegas, dubbing it Naked Ambition: An R-Rated Look at an X-Rated Industry.  This is the behind-the-scenes footage cobbled together and passed off as a documentary.

No one is going to
be more disappointed than this guy
that this is an R-rated movie until he realizes that Sexxxy Starrr* bending down has
nothing to do with the fact that he’s not wearing pants but rather because she dropped her Sharpie.

The Lowdown

I find the adult film industry truly fascinating.  Every single time a movie like this comes out that purports to shed some light on what life is like for those who work in porn, I hope that it will actually shed some light.  Like most of them, Naked Ambition comes up – ahem – short.

Cameras follow Grecco as he and his team work hard to capture the images of those who inhabit the subculture of pornography, from porn stars to artisans that design sex toys to the fans that flock to Vegas for the AVN convention for a chance to get a picture taken with their favorite star.  He finds his through-line in the stories of Sunny Lane and Joanna Angel, two new vixens vying for the honor of Best New Starlet 2007 and with it, not unlike winning the Academy Award, an immediate pay raise and top choice for the best materal — or, in Lane and Angel’s case, getting the ability to pick and choose the male talent with whom they work. 

This could be a compelling story line.  There is inherent drama in the lead-up to the awards ceremony, each starlet placing their hopes and dreams on winning this coveted award.  I don’t write that to be tongue-in-cheek, either.  One thing that Grecco does well is that he does not judge any of the people in this film.  He treats these characters with love and care, letting them tell their stories and bare themselves – literally and figuratively – for his camera. Lane and Angel are likable enough; both having stumbled into the business randomly, as is usually the case.  But neither are all that compelling.  The problem isn’t with Grecco’s approach or ability to get people to shed the typical porn star schtick and exude something real in his photographs — in fact, the actual photos that Grecco takes for the coffee book are rather exceptional.  The problem is that none of the pieces he’s selected to show us make for an interesting film.

Ponce De Leon-Top-of-You knew that his 1600s pirate schtick was tacky and was growing rather tired of it, but he kept it going because Bambbiee hadn’t yet been born when Cutthroat Island came out and still thought of him as a sauver Johnny Depp.

It’s hard to know who to blame since the credits list the writer as being Charles Holland; however, it seems that this was really Grecco’s ship to sink.  At the end of the day, this is a documentary and he is the director, so while the voiceover narration might be scripted by someone else, Grecco is still at the helm and charged with crafting a story out of what looks and feels like random interviews and behind-the-scenes footage that had very little direction during production. This isn’t surprising considering one of the dramatic lines in the movie has Grecco worried that he was in over his head with just the coffee book aspect of the project, much less directing a feature-length documentary at the same time.  And while I haven’t yet had a chance to see the book, but based on the images shown in the film, I’d say that the documentary got the short end of the stick.

At the end of the day, Naked Ambition doesn’t illuminate anything we haven’t already seen before.  By “we” I mean those of us who know enough about the modern porn industry to recognize performers as they pass by on screen or who have seen other, better (but still rather flawed) documentaries like Inside Deep Throat or Porn Star: The Legend of Ron Jeremy.  The real tragedy here is how Grecco had a solid concept but completely fumbled the execution.  He managed to make a movie about the biggest awards ceremony in a $12-billion dollar industry without making the audience care either way about who won.  No tension.  No getting us invested in the outcome.  What a wasted opportunity.  Instead, the dramatic moments pop up erratically, in particular the half-assed attempts at creating suspense by suggesting that Grecco might not be able to complete his daring endeavor in the alloted three day span. (It’s a classic story – a race against time to pull off the impossible – when told right.  This one isn’t.) The only time we get the feeling that he might not pull this gargantuan project off is when he tells us how gargantuan of a project it is and how he might not pull it off. 

Heidi Montag (right), circa 2032.

Near the end of the film, in the midst of the awards show, things finally get interesting if only for a moment. As the award winners walked off stage with their trophies, Grecco stopped and asked to photograph them.  Most welcomed the chance to bask in their glory, except for one Mr. Evan Stone. He refused to have his picture taken for Grecco’s book, saying that Grecco would make a profit off of his image and Stone wouldn’t see a cent. The camera operators stand far away and zoom in while Grecco tries desperately to talk Stone into it, but it’s a total failure. Grecco is completely unable to convince him otherwise because, well, Stone is right.  Here is a group of people whose livelihood is based entirely on their image — acting ability just isn’t all that important, frankly — and the ones (especially the men, who aren’t exactly the draw for most of these pictures) who forge successful, lengthy careers in the industry have to be true entrepreneurs in charge of controlling and selling their product, their brand: themselves.  Stone dismissed Grecco and went on his way and it was the only time in the film that I felt some real delight at seeing true conflict unfold onscreen.  It’s a bummer that this two-minute blip was all Grecco could muster. 

(I also found it rather telling and supporting of Stone’s gripe that the cover of the DVD says, in bold lettering, “featuring Jenna Jameson, Ron Jeremy, and Sunny Lane,” yet barely has a couple shots of Jenna and hardly any more with Jeremy — two of the arguably biggest stars in porn. Jenna’s image is featured prominently on the back of the DVD, as are a bunch of other performers who make brief appearances only.  Not to say that they didn’t get compensated for the use of their image, of course, but it makes you see where Stone was coming from.)

Naked Ambition feels like maybe it’s just a companion piece to the coffee book of the same name.  Perhaps if you first sat down and leafed through the book, staring at these sometimes odd and bizarre yet fascinating people and wonder about their stories, maybe this movie would work for you.  Or if you simply have an unhealthy obsession for all things porn related.  But, for the strong majority that just want a good story told well, Grecco fails to tie all of his interesting threads together, leaving his first foray into feature filmmaking a rather benign disaster: it’s mediocrity made all the more mediocre by the missed opportunities of what it could’ve been.

It’s rather amazing, really, how porn lighting and editing manage to make Jenna Jameson look decidedly unlike Fran Drescher in her movies, but out in public…

The Package

Movie trailers (remember when movies were on VHS and you actually had to fast-forward through these?), and a host of deleted scenes.  Honestly: I enjoyed the ten minutes of the deleted scenes more than the rest of the movie combined.  Based on these, I’d say that Grecco failed as a director because the material was caught on film to craft a solid film — he just couldn’t piece it together. 

The best character in the whole film is found only in these deleted scenes and it’s a former male porn star from the ’70s.  He’s a natural storyteller with a personality that immediately grabs your attention by the throat.  He’s funny, charming, and still rocks a solid disco perm.  He talks about the porn business, how it’s actual work, and regales us with the captivating tale of how an awkward moment shooting scene ended up being his last as a porn performer.  I’d watch a whole movie of this guy just sitting in front of the camera telling stories from the golden era of porn. Someone call this guy up and make that happen.  It’d be pure gold.  I wish I knew his name — any of you porn connoisseurs out there, check it out and let me know. 

There are also the brief scenes of Belladonna and her odd relationship with her husband who has a very low libido yet somehow it all works.  Again: great stuff that should’ve found their way into the movie. Part of me is glad that this stuff salvaged the whole experience for me, but in a way it makes it that much worse knowing that another chance at being a definitive porn documentary has been squandered yet again.

4.0 out of 10.0

Because showing up a porn star convention with a shit-eating grin and a  Target-brand digital camera aimed at naked women’s crotches didn’t make it obvious enough.