Kevin Sorbo played the title character in 111 episodes of the syndicated TV series Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, ending his run in 1999. Perhaps he still feels typecast as a heroic figure, and so that prompted him to accept the lead role in Julia X 3D, in which he plays a serial killer known only as The Stranger. The movie is meant to play as a dark comedy, at least according to director P.J. Pettiette, who introduced the film for its Fantastic Fest premiere at the Alamo Drafthouse.
Some members of the late-night audience took Pettiette at his word, laughing when The Stranger punched Julia (Valerie Azlynn) in the face, just before tuning into The Carpenters for inspiration on his earphones while shaving and humming along to the mellow soft-rock song. That was a further source of merriment for certain audience members, leading to The Stranger branding his lastest victim on the backside with an “X.”
It’s not too long, though, before Julia turns the tables on The Stranger, knocking him out and then punching him in the face. Julia takes The Stranger home, where her younger sister Jessica (Alicia Leigh Willis) awaits, eager to take her turn in torturing The Stranger. Eventually, a truly hapless victim named Sam (Joel Moore), a young mechanic, also is drawn into the diabolical games played by The Stranger, Julia, and Jessica.
Julia X 3D has a workable premise -- serial killer becomes a victim of a pair of serial killers -- yet the execution is woefully lacking. The wisecracks sound like dusted-off fan-fiction from 80s action movies, or sub-par James Bond kiss-offs, along the lines of The Stranger smashing Julia in the face (again) and declaring: “This date is over.”
The film seems to relish the idea that powerful women are finally paying men back for their inappropriate advances and repeated lasvicious behaviors, but it also treats women as nothing more than sex symbols; Julia and Jessica can offer nothing of substance in their attacks upon men, and their actions are presented solely as the result of their father abusing their mother and themselves.
Far too much of the movie is taken up with The Stranger, Julia, and Jessica smashing each other in the face and/or inserting sharp objects into flesh. The “suspense” is often created when The Stranger emerges from hiding; the only problem with that is that it’s never established where, exactly, he has been hiding. (I like to think of it as an all-purpose interior location known as “off camera.”) Far too often, it feels like the filmmakers cheated on logic in order to cover up mistakes they didn’t notice until later.
The 3D looks sensational -- as an out-of-town visitor, it makes me want to check up with my hometown theaters to see if their presentation matches up with the high standards of the Alamo Drafthouse -- but is entirely pointless. If the film was produced with the intent of harkening back to cheesy films of yore, it seems like more shots should have been designed to have fun with the 3D format. Instead, it feels like something to distract you from the weaker elements of the production.
Sorbo is very game, and delivers would-be wisecracks with aplomb, but he’s adrift in a sea of mediocrity. Sorry, maybe I saw too many episodes of Sorbo as Hercules, but he’s not believable as a nasty, woman-hating serial killer, no matter how many times he sings along to The Carpenters and allows his face to break into a goofy smile.
Julia and Jessica are given plenty of motivation in extended (and increasingly unnecessary) flashbacks, yet the actresses portraying them struggle to overcome the weak material.
It gives me no pleasure to describe Julia X 3D as a nearly-complete disaster. It’s a crap shoot to make an independent movie, especally one that takes on the additional challenges of 3D photography and production, and, as I mentioned, the premise has a good degree of potential. And, as we all know, comedy is extremely subjective; what I find humorless may tickle your funny point.
Putting that aside, however, a differing sense of humor does not excuse slipshod narrative construction or, even more problematically, an uneasily misogynistic odor to the proceedings.
Only Joel Moore escapes, basically unharmed, his kind, comic, everyman persona intact. At one point he is freed from a potential deadly situation, and his rescuer tells him to run away, fast.
I wanted to run away with him. But the movie kept playing.