The Sex Merchants is more like a stew than a movie. Take a clothesline plot, softcore elements, and the vaguest (and I mean vaguest) elements of the faux-grindhouse aesthetic and throw them into a pot, simmer, and serve. It's a weak concoction clearly thrown together because the filmmakers are (accurately) under the impression that none of these three pieces will hold up on their own.
What story there is to be had concerns Peter (Tyrone L. Roosevelt), a photographer for an erotic magazine hilariously named "Esoteric." He sleeps with his models, and he has an addiction to cocaine, as well as a tendency to spend his evenings with a hooker named Susie (Jackie Stevens), who desperately wants to get out of the streetwalking game and into the pages of Peter's magazine. In the meantime, Peter is hounded by his mother, and his addiction starts to affect his work.
Although it's possible to string together a very short paragraph about the film's story, these elements are easily conveyed in the space of around 15 minutes. The rest of the movie's 64-minute runtime is given over to the movie's softcore sequences. Either Peter takes photos...lots of photos...a ridiculous amount of photos, then touches the models, or has sex with Susie...lots of sex...a ridiculous amount of sex. Obviously, The Sex Merchants' goals are limited, but these sequences are boring and drawn out, without any real style. Cocaine addiction and line-crossing are a truly halfhearted (eighth-hearted?) attempt to make the film lurid, as is the extremely faint whiff of '70s exploitation films (the opening credits are about as far as it goes), but scenes look too bright and modern, and there's certainly no chance of investing in any of it.
The only interesting thing going on here is that the story actually has a germ of an idea in it about the privilege with which a certain type of photographer is allowed to behave with their clients, and the way that privilege blurs the line between escort and erotic model. It goes without saying that not a single frame of The Sex Merchants actually explores this boundary in any way whatsoever, and I'm sure this topic has already been covered by any number of real movies, but at least it's something to think about as the movie goes about its dull softcore business. It's also vaguely funny that the movie is scored with what sounds like public domain score samples, resulting in a supposedly erotic scene set to some upbeat, trumpet-heavy marching tune that'd be more at home in a war adventure movie from the 1930s.
I'm sure this is not a new sentiment (perhaps even one I've expressed before), but without a real emphasis on the characters or story (or at least a stab at cheesy comedy), it's hard to imagine what purpose softcore films even have in 2011. Viewers looking for entertainment, adult or otherwise, would be better served by the real deal, and The Sex Merchants is not it. The "performances" are stiff and clunky, the pacing is poor, and the sex is boring. Less a movie than a product, it's a purposeless production, certain to be forgotten even by those involved with it in a fraction of the time it took to make.
The Sex Merchants is not on IMDb -- clearly a warning sign -- and so I unwisely made the assumption, based on the extremely simple cover art, that this might be some forgotten 1970s exploitation film dug out of the back of someone's vault. Disc in hand, however, it's obvious that this is a 2011 softcore production from the super-simplistic back cover design. A black and white postcard/insert for AlternativeCinema.com is case.
The Video and Audio
Presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and Dolby Digital 2.0, The Sex Merchants looks and sounds like a production shot with no money on consumer grade video cameras in 2010 or 2011. Colors are bright and detail is reasonable, but there's also a level of digital artifacting and low fidelity that are inherent to the equipment, lending an undeniable cheapness to both the picture and sound.
None, other than trailers for Diary of a Sex Offender, Defiled, Faces of Schlock, and a menu screen with information on how to get the AlternativeCinema catalog.
The Sex Merchants is not a painful or oppressive experience in any way, but it's also a totally useless one. Skip it.
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