Mope movie review & film summary (2020)

It’ll take you less time to read the Wikipedia page on this incident than to sit through “Mope,” though it may whet your appetite enough to brave all 105 minutes of the film. I suppose if you’re truly curious, you may also be able to find instances of the antics of Driver and Tom Dong (Wong’s nom de porn) somewhere in the viewable universe. But, as the title suggests, the duo were mere extras in adult features, so don’t expect any leading roles. To quote the onscreen definition that follows the aforementioned disclaimer, a mope is “a bottom-tier porn performer willing to do the dirtiest, most depraved work in the business.” With a subject like that, you know damn well that the last thing you’re about to see will be “respectful.”

The problem with gruesome true stores is that, if the outcome is known, a film needs to work well enough for you to patiently wait for it to get to the climactic re-enactment of the crime. “Mope” does not garner enough interest in either a storytelling or visual regard. It’s stuck in an endless loop in both situations; most of it is shot in the same dull array of tight close-ups while its leads repeat the same behavior over and over. Driver is determined to be the biggest adult film actor in history, something he repeats ad nauseam as if the mere repetition of the words will make it so. Dong follows along, hypnotized by this fantasy despite realizing he is even worse at the job than Driver is. Stewart-Jarrett’s commitment to this one note of increasing delusion is commendable, but it’s ultimately ineffective because that’s all he’s been given on the page. There’s no entry point for Driver, so we’re never allowed to identify with nor understand his Werner Herzog-movie level determination. The movie seems disgusted by him until it depicts the turning point that will lead to the murder. Then, its last-ditch grasp for empathy is corrupted by making Tom Dong into a villain.

I was unsure of how “Mope” was being pitched to me tonally, so I must defer to the press materials that classify this as “a dark comedy.” I assume that the intention was along the lines of other films about people seeking fame and fortune well above their talents, movies like Martin Scorsese’s “The King of Comedy” and Michael Bay’s “Pain and Gain.” “Mope” isn’t remotely funny, and its supposed jokes harbor on cruelty and racial typecasting. Driver’s bad hygiene is constantly referred to and mocked (though never explained) and Dong is a hornet’s nest of Asian stereotypes—he’s docile, good at computers and someone refers to a scene where his titular body part is used as a hot dog by saying “you don’t put a three-inch penis into an eight-inch bun.” Even when the race issues are addressed, they’re done poorly. A scene with David Arquette as a porn director forcing them to enact the most blatantly racist tropes for his movie plays more like an indictment of “Mope” than of Arquette’s character.

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