Photographer Billy (Jon Hall) and his girlfriend Sarah (Paloma) have just moved into a new apartment. They are no longer in love, but they content themselves with sex, often involving roleplay. Billy becomes enamored with their new neighbor Dana (Jamilla Obispo), who spends her days at home blogging and supplying drugs to a local dealer. The thing is, Dana’s more attracted to Sarah. Billy lays out a deal: Dana can spend the night with Sarah, and in exchange, he gets to have sex with her. Billy manipulates the two ladies to get what he wants, but he fails to realize the risk of the arrangement.
It’s a somewhat intriguing premise, wrought with messy emotions and tricky sexual politics. The film touches briefly on some of these concepts, but it doesn’t go much deeper than that. There are all sorts of weird details surrounding the central narrative, and subplots that distract from the main thread. The pieces don’t quite fit together, and the effect is a little off-putting. The film has trouble resolving its issues, and consequently rushes through an ending that doesn’t really make much sense. The writing can be a little trite, but it suits the occasional absurdity of the film pretty well.
The main appeal of the movie is in the filmmaking. Recent sexy films haven’t really made much of an effort at all, basically setting the camera down and zooming into the naughty bits. It’s obvious that a lot of thought was put into the erotic sequences of this picture. There’s logic and progression in the sex scenes, and the visuals ends up saying a lot about the state of the characters. For most films, nudity seems to be the only goal. If nothing else, X-Deal makes something out of that nudity, presenting the discovery of the human body in more interesting ways.
The actors don’t really seem to be equipped to deliver some of the film’s headier dialogue. Jamilla Obispo has trouble with portraying the more sophisticated side of her character. Part of it is just diction, but there’s a sense that she doesn’t quite grasp the motivations of the role. Jon Hall can’t quite handle the deviousness of his character. He’s meant to be manipulative, but the lack of subtlety undermines this quality. Paloma fares the best, keeping the sadness of her character always just lurking beneath the surface.
X-Deal doesn’t fully work. The story doesn’t hold up, with stray details filling time and failing to move things forward. The ending feels tacked on and unearned, coming off as absurd more than anything. But as sexy films go, this is a far better one than we’ve gotten in a long time. At the very least, a lot more effort was put into trying to make the film erotic. It isn’t just about the exposure of bodies. This film at least acknowledges that there’s more to sexuality than the shedding of clothing and the connection of bodies. Context can be just as important, and this X-Deal handles the context pretty well.