Still of Carla Gugino, left, and Timothy Olyphant in the movie "Elektra… (Samuel Goldwyn Films )
In writer-director Sebastian Gutierrez's 2009 feature "Women in Trouble," actress Carla Gugino played a world-weary adult film star named "Elektra Luxx." The character, with Gugino reprising her role, gets title billing in Gutierrez's newest feature, though she's now a pregnant fledgling sex-educator struggling to find her place in the world in the wake of her notorious former career.
A dead musician's unrecorded songs start a roundelay of intrigues, and soon Elektra is encountering a series of offbeat characters who throw the perils of her path to self-discovery into strong relief.
Gutierrez prefers the pin-up tease of lace and back seams over the straight-ahead raunch of stretched spandex, and so "Elektra Luxx" has a playful, breezy sexiness that gives the world of the film, porn biz and all, a refreshing innocence.
He once again employs the structure of loosely interconnected vignettes he's favored in his earlier work and recruits previous collaborators including Emmanuelle Chriqui, Adrianne Palicki and Marley Shelton for his cast. But Gutierrez also has been able to pull in brief appearances by the likes of Timothy Olyphant, Vincent Kartheiser, Justin Kirk and Lucy Punch. And why, yes, that is Julianne Moore as the Virgin Mary.
Gugino is at times hampered by the way in which the structure dictates she stay on the move, making her more a post-porn traffic cop than fully realized character (Though the scene in which she plays opposite herself as her twin sister captures both the kicky fun and emotional undertow of the film at its best, as does an unexpectedly earnest moment between Joseph Gordon-Levitt as an amateur porn blogger and Malin Akerman as a smitten young woman).
In his rambunctious affection for women and appreciation for flamboyant production design, Gutierrez seems to be pitching himself as the American analogue to Pedro Almodóvar. Nevertheless, for his ongoing exploration of the fascinating mystery that is the female of the species, Gutierrez is, in the most delightful, respectful sense of the term, a true ladies' man.
"Elektra Luxx." MPAA rating: R for strong sexual content, nudity and language. Running time: 1 hour, 44 minutes. Playing at the Nuart, West Los Angeles.