Bud Lee's "True Power" has lapsed into obscurity, but the 2003 release from late lamented distributor Sin City is a refreshing reminder of how quality craftsmanship and compelling story telling were routine in the X-rated entertainment sphere not so long ago, sadly abandoned to Wall-to-Wall sex recently.
I have been watching many Lee movies lately, with maybe 100 more to go (sounds more of a task than it really is) and I see that he epitomizes the sort of talent slaving away in the Porno profession, trying his best to do a good job each shoot, and unfortunately dismissed or even ridiculed for his efforts. I can attest to the fact that even sampling randomly, there are many hidden gems lurking in Lee's credit list.
One of the secrets of his success, not the usual "conventional wisdom" that allying himself serially with superstar wives Hyapatia Lee and Asia Carrera did the trick, is an unpretentious approach. As explained on numerous BTS statements he recorded over the years, Lee knows what's expected of him (hot sex scenes) and he is careful to balance that with a good yarn, sincerely told, each time out.
"True Power" is set in an unusual place for porn, the world of High Finance. Its obvious forerunner is Gary Graver/Robert McCallum's 1985 film "Tower of Power" (names coincidentally similar), about boardroom politics and back-stabbing. Bud's feature concerns an investment company led by Steven St. Croix, which specializes in hostile takeovers and a cut-throat mentality that we know is alive and well on Wall Street today (though the film is set in L.A., of course). Think Carl Icahn as a real-world shark in these waters.
In the accompanying BTS short subject, Lee explains his idea for the film came as a sort of "Pygmalion", with Brit Hannah Harper just the ticket as the student working as cleaning lady (!) in Steven's office. Lee's concept that people often have hidden talents and personalities that we commonly dismiss at face value (even Harper's incredible beauty goes unnoticed by the busy execs as just their invisible cleaning lady here) is an interesting topic and adds subtext and emotional pull to his admittedly pornographic story.
For me, the mainstream reference was a delightful British comedy "Ladies Who Do" about cleaning ladies who rummaging through the waste baskets picked up on stock tips and made a mint. Here we have not just Harper, but other folks in the office privy to highly confidential information that can make or break not only the takeover target companies but St. Croix's little empire as well.
The intrigue is kept to brief, well-acted dialog scenes with the lion's share of the footage devoted to six full-length sex vignettes. But unlike today's token "set-up" scenes of nominal schmoozing before the stars hit the sack, this story holds one's interest, has fine twists, and even something to think about when the dust settles. Not bad for Adult Entertainment, especially since Lee always delivers the arousing goods of explicit content along the way.
My choice for Adult's best actor of all time, St. Croix, is terrific, and it's not an overstatement to say that mainstream "greats" (I mean the overrated Oscar-winning folk like Spacey, Cage and Leo) would do well to take a gander at how Steven manages to portray an unlikable, at times awful person with great nuance, so that by the time he & Hannah inevitably have sex and bond as colleagues in the story, we no longer hate him but understand him, even as Lee and his regular writer George Kaplan maintain that negative edge to the character -a very realistic bit of writing.
Harper is the sexy British Rose who deserves more of a following now that her career is over (and largely forgotten), while Devon Michaels and Ava Vincent are terrific as schemers, given a hot lesbian scene set in a bar; Lezley Zen solid as usual in the villainous role of Steven's assistant/lover playing all ends against the middle, and Brittney Skye does her usual eye-candy thing. Fly in the casting ointment is Dick Smothers Jr., completely insufferable in the BTS filled with his b.s. (example: "I'm more famous than my father!") and flat in his role as Steven's business partner. I missed out a decade or so ago on the entire Smothers Jr. career, and watching him now can't understand why he even had a career.
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