Movie Review: Hollywood, sleazy 80s-style, in ‘MaXXXine’

If anything, “MaXXXine” is a love letter to the Los Angeles movie.

The third film in this unlikely trilogy (following “X” and “Pearl”) finds Mia Goth’s Maxine Minx in Hollywood in the 1980s. This is not a glamorous existence. She’s living in a rundown apartment on Hollywood Boulevard and working around the clock, in adult films (every man in town seems to recognize her) and sex shops. As ever, she is maniacally focused on one thing: Becoming a star. And despite her smut background, she’s gotten a massive break to star in a studio horror sequel. But her past is haunting her and a serial killer is at large (“The Night Stalker”), both of which seem to be closing in, racking up a body count and threatening to derail her big shot.

Maxine, we know by now, will not let anything get in her way.

Filmmaker Ti West, who also wrote the script, seems to be checking off a well-honed list of “LA movie” musts. He’s got a synthy nightclub scene, a shot of someone falling in a pool, a plaster casting sequence, and the obligatory costumed extras marching down a studio lot. West has also made sure to really use the city as a location, setting scenes in as many iconic spots as possible: The Hollywood Forever Cemetery; The Chinese Theater, before it had the “TCL”; The Walk of Fame; A modernist mansion in the hills; The Bates Motel; And even a little golf cart ride through the facades and old west town at Universal that anyone who’s taken the “studio tour ride” will recognize.

This is a movie chock full of great ideas, homages to the likes of Brian De Palma and David Lynch, campy costuming and set design and memorable supporting performances: Elizabeth Debicki, regal as always but this time as a serious English auteur making “B movies with A ideas” in the Hollywood system; Halsey, terrifically delightful as a prototypical brassy “best friend” of 80s flicks (somewhere between Laura San Giacomo in “Pretty Woman” and Bess Motta in “Terminator”); Moses Sumney, a voice of the audience as a savant video clerk with an encyclopedic Lily Collins, having fun with accents as a rising scream queen; Kevin Bacon, also relishing an over-the-top accent as a crooked private investigator; Giancarlo Esposito going low class in a wild wig as a small time agent/manager/fixer; and Michelle Monaghan and Bobby Cannavale as a couple of bickering homicide detectives.

What it’s not is especially scary. There are several gruesome murders, and yet it all feels more akin to a too-self-aware horror satire than something that makes you feel any sense of dread or terror. It checks the boxes, with gore and variety, but it doesn’t jump off the screen and crawl under your skin. Instead, it feels a little routine. Maybe that’s the point? Maxine has seen a lot by now and is hard to rattle; Perhaps that jadedness has transferred to the audience.

Goth is compelling again as Maxine, especially in a killer audition scene, but her character feels underwritten. She doesn’t get anything nearly as meaty as the big dinner table monologue in “Pearl.” Though the camera is pointed at her most of the time, the supporting cast seems to have more opportunities to shine.

The very silly climax also has the unintended consequence of diminishing a lot that came before it. This is what we were building to? Perhaps West and his team leaned a little too heavily into the B movie/video store oddity aesthetic, wasting the promise of the world they created. And yet even so, you kind of forgive it because however slight it is, and even if its predecessors may have been better, it’s still a fun enough time at the movies, best enjoyed with an excitable crowd.

“MaXXXine,” an A24 release in theaters Friday, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association for “strong violence, graphic nudity, gore, drug use, language, sexual content.” Running time: 101 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.