'Lovelace' Rated R: 92 minutes

Three stars out of four

LOS ANGELES - The lurid celebrity and sordid aftermath of the brief career of the world's first porn star is vividly, if not explicitly, etched in "Lovelace."

Given all the ways a project like this could have gone wrong, the result is surprisingly good on several fronts.Leaving behind the overly academic approach they brought to "Howl" three years ago, directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman have made a real movie here.

Linda Lovelace was the nom de porn bestowed upon Florida girl Linda Boreman when she starred in her one and only hardcore feature, the 1972 film that became the adult film industry's first crossover smash, launched "porno chic" and went on to gross anywhere from $100 million to $600 million on an initial expenditure of less than $50,000.

Lovelace only ever collected her salary of $1,250.

Lurking behind the entire enterprise was not only the mob but Lovelace's husband and manager Chuck Traynor. By her own account, he threatened, beat and controlled her; kept her money; forced her into prostitution; and essentially kept her prisoner until she got away.

Lovelace went on to promote anti-pornography and women's causes until her 2002 death in a car accident.

Her story is a sad, depressing and degrading one, so grim at times one wonders if there's any edification to be had from it. To say Lovelace provides uplift by the end would be an exaggeration, but the fact that the one-time victim did not succumb but, rather, stabilized her life and eventually fought back provides a sense of vindication.

The early going is a choppy as young Linda (Amanda Seyfried), who lives with her parents (Robert Patrick and Sharon Stone) in Davie, Fla., is escorted from the world of go-go dancing to the heavy-duty drugs-and-porn scene by the barely charming hustler Chuck (Peter Sarsgaard).

When Chuck takes Linda to New York to porn director Gerard Damiano (Hank Azaria) and producer Butchie Peraino (Bobby Cannavale), she objects that, "I don't have any skills." Chuck protests that she does have one, a specialty she has perfected that will give the movie its title, lure upscale audiences to porn for the first time and make its star notorious.

After the "Deep Throat" frenzy, the film jumps ahead six years, with Linda taking a polygraph test to authenticate her accusations against her vile Svengali. And thus do the horrors of the past few years begin to pour out: the beatings, the forced gang rapes, the pressure to make three sequels, the virtual slavery enforced by Chuck.

Another six years later, her book, "Ordeal," has come out, she is raising two kids and is appearing on "The Phil Donahue Show" saying, "Linda Lovelace was a fictitious character." She's transitioned from the practitioner of male fantasies to a feminist hero, of sorts. (By Todd McCarthy/The Hollywood Reporter)