Date of Production: 4/22/2003 (credits), 2/20/2004 (box)
Extra's: Extras are a tricky business in porn since stuff that works for one fan doesn't for another. That's why it's good to Vivid trying out new things this time, primarily by including a copy of the original Vivid release of the movie from 1990, starring then-popular Hyapatia Lee. That release spawned a series of semi-popular follow-ups; each starring a different performer. Ms. Lee was in decline at the time but she was a favorite of mine in the 80's so I find it difficult to be too harsh on the film; suffice it to say, the limitations it displayed were numerous.
Okay, you probably know that Vivid always includes some photo galleries, trailers, a double sided DVD cover, a mini-biography, and multiple angles to choose from in some scenes but this was another case where they went all out and offered an audio commentary by Jenna and Justin. I think they'd have been better served by having Paul Thomas sit in with them but they did offer the usual factoids of the people and situations they worked with (something us net geeks appreciate way too much). There were also a couple of deleted scenes, one with the Rottens (one of porn's sweetest couples, even if you'd rather avoid seeing them in a dark alley) and the other with lovely Mandy Bright and Frank Gun. Jenna fans will enjoy her solo scene as she tumbles around in slow motion wearing a yellow wig and her warm scene from Where The Boys Aren't 16 with Sunrise Adams almost as much as the 16 minute Behind the Scenes feature and 9 minute Blooper Reel. So I guess it's fair to point out that when Vivid wants to, they can offer a sweet little package of DVD enhancing material (the extra DVD was a surprise, and a good one, that hopefully encourages other companies to pony up in the future).
Audio/Video Quality: The movie was presented in the usual 1.33:1 ratio full frame color, the current industry standard at this time. While I would've preferred to see an anamorphic widescreen presentation, I'm aware that for all the technological advances that porn has contributed to home viewing (this goes back to video tape too), a moderately large number of consumers prefer their porn in so-called "fool screen". I wish more of these consumers would just try to take a look at some of the high end productions that use the widescreen ratio to full advantage; they'll abandon full frame in droves if they have a decent home theatre. That said, the picture was shot on film and that introduced the usual grain I find so unappealing. The colors were decent but the overall quality of the picture wasn't great due to the way porn on film translates onto DVD (getting film to look good on DVD requires a lot of extra expense that few, if any, porn companies are willing to spend). There were a number of jarring edits done on purpose (for style) that I didn't like but the visual aspects of the film were generally done very well and most viewers will not appreciate them until they've checked it out several times. For the most part though, the picture quality wasn't a selling point but it shouldn't dissuade a fan from buying the DVD either.
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The audio was presented in 2.0 Dolby Digital stereo English. I thought it sounded pretty solid with attention to the music better than average and the vocals among the best of a current Vivid release. There were a number of minor flaws that I caught on repeated viewing (I like Ms. Jameson so I try to check out her work several times before writing my reviews) but, like the visuals, you might not notice unless looking for problems (instead of just enjoying the movie). At times, the vocals were hollow or seemed slightly off but, like the instances of soft focus on the picture, most viewers won't care much about them.
To sum up the audio and video aspects of the movie; they generally got the job done but lacked the pizzazz that someone like Jenna should have. Let's face it; she's currently the hottest performer on the market in terms of cross-over appeal and name recognition so most of us expect that anything she's in should be cutting edge in terms of quality. This has not been the case and that makes for a disappointment to this reviewer. On a more positive note, the visual and audio composition of the movie was light-years ahead of the original release that was included in the DVD package, showing how much growth Paul Thomas has had over the last 14 or so years. The original looked (and sounded) really lame and you'll be far more generous to the flaws of the current release if you watch that one first.
Body of Review: In the last two decades that I've been watching porn, I've seen a number of flavor of the month types take center stage before the next great thing replaced them. The industry is very much designed to promote the new gals while discarding the so-called "has beens" that were hot stuff just weeks prior. As time progressed, a few companies tried another method of marketing, using contract stars to gain brand loyalty. This method worked in the dawn of Hollywood so why not try it in porn? Well, to make a long story short, it worked very well for companies like Wicked Pictures, VCA, and the kingpin of contract stars, Vivid Interactive. Vivid's early deal with Ginger Lynn Allen was what made the company instantly recognizable to many fans and that set the stage for their current stable of lovely cuties, including the top of the contract food chain, Jenna Jameson.
Jenna has succeeded on every level in and out of the jizz bizz by virtue of her look as much as the marketing prowess of the companies she has been associated with. Currently, she works for her own company, ClubJenna.com, with her husband, Justin Sterling, who has exclusive access to sexual relations with the starlet (at least in terms of a penis). She makes very few movies, preferring to provide content on her website after learning how exploitive the industry can be. In short, she was a quick study to the ways of the world and wanted to keep a piece of the pie since it was her pie making all the money.
This means that she is very selective in what projects she takes on and the latest is a remake of an old porn, The Masseuse, by director Paul Thomas. The story involved a lonely virgin, Jim, played by Justin who was looking for love in all the wrong places, a massage parlor. Unable to have a real relationship, he seeks out sexual relief in the form of the impersonal contact he can get from some gal he doesn't know, helping to make his low paying job more bearable. He lucks out when his masseuse turns out to be a lovely young hotty (Jenna) that is willing to give him a happy ending for a couple extra bucks.
As he becomes a regular customer of hers, the two become more intimate, and the sex progresses from a simple handjob to a blow job to full out sex in a series of four scenes between the couple. This mimicked the action in the first release (fans of Hyapatia Lee take note that the original version had more of her than any other movie she was in during her career) and seemed far more natural than the sex of most porn. There was a chemistry in the scenes that belied the usual mechanics of porn too, making it something of an anomaly these days since the sex didn't just fall into the usual patterned sex I've come to expect. Rather than have the oral/straight/anal/pop shot with three positions, the natural flow was more interesting to me and allowed the heat to build up over the course of the movie.
The scenes also included more fetish gear and bondage as the couple gained some momentum. I've always liked seeing Jenna in such attire and her efforts to get wilder in this regard have worked quite well. Those of you really into bondage may not think it went far enough but keep in mind that Jenna could wear a burlap sack with no makeup, shoot her scenes early in the morning with a hangover, and sit on a plain chair to her adoring fans and still manage to outsell anything on the market. The downside for many fans these days of her exclusively working with Justin in straight scenes actually was offset by their chemistry together as a couple in real life (much more so than in Bella Loves Jenna) so even a guy like me has to accept that if the trend continues, I may actually come to believe the two will have to work together in order for it to look right. She's been in front of the camera for years and one of the problems of earlier encounters between them was the disparity of sexual skill in front of a camera they had; this is now fading away like a bad memory.
The movie also had some other scenes worth noting, most notably between Jenna and the hotty known as Savanna Samson. The two engaged in a lesbian tryst in bed that was smoking hot and involved strap on dildos and fetish attire that warmed me up more than a few times. Savanna has long been one of the more underappreciated Vivid contract performers in my book since she consistently shows more enthusiasm, more genuine heat, and more of a positive attitude than half their stable combined. This was one of her best scenes to date (if not the best) and while I'd have liked to see more real bondage going on between the gals, this scene was a keeper on all levels.
Another solid, if not stellar, scene was between Wendy and Evan. She is a blonde bombshell that has also proven a lot of talent sexually and with her acting over the years. Her heat comes from within and Evan was exactly the right guy to make her strut her stuff in top form. She also had a short solo scene where she attempted to seduce Justin's character but it wasn't long enough for my tastes. Evan was the only guy to wear a condom in the movie (sucked to be him) but anyone watching a Vivid release is probably going know that they virtually always use condoms in their movies.
So, if the movie's sex was well done, everyone's going to love it, right? Well, not exactly since the sex was still well within the normal parameters set forth by Vivid. Except for the bondage gear and light floggings, the sex was oral and straight only, which was fine by me but some viewers demand the increasingly prevalent circus act sex the industry seems intent on making the norm. I thought there was a lot of obvious heat though and anyone watching it at regular speed will notice what I mean.
The story was also pretty decent and the performers did a good job of portraying their characters as multi-faceted people, rather than the usual two dimensional wooden portraits porn is known for. I believed that Justin was a creepy virgin, Jenna a hardened masseuse, and Wendy a sex-crazed co-worker just as I believed that Tina worked the front desk for some time. I thought it was a shame that with all the bondage themes going around, Tina's unique talents weren't put to more use in the sex scenes, even as a non-participant, but a lot of viewers prefer youth over experience so I'll just chalk it up as a lost opportunity on Vivid's part.
Summary: The Masseuse was easily one of my favorite releases of the year due in large part to the presence of Jenna but also because the story elements were so well handled. You can count on one hand the number of movies that successfully combine good sex with decent acting and not come off as cheesy attempts at high school level acting; so I hope it wins some awards to validate the efforts of all involved. Porn can be more than the sum of its parts and this is one such occasion, even with Jenna bringing her usual skill to the mix. With an attractive cast, solid sex with heat, a good dramatic element, and some spiffy extras, I think a rating of Highly Recommended is fair. Keep in mind that if you aren't a fan of Jenna, dramatic stories in porn, need circus act sex to get off, or simply hate weaker technical aspects in your DVDs, you might want to pass it up but a lot of people are going to enjoy this one.
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