Monday, June 28, 2010

Hackford/Jacobson's LOVE RANCH: 3 fine actors ground a movie of mini expectations

Helen Mirren, Joe Pesci & Spanish co-star Sergio Peris-Mencheta are the best 3 reasons to visit LOVE RANCH, the new movie from director Taylor Hack-
ford (shown below) and writer Mark Jac-
obson.   One of those based-on-fact movies in which very few of the facts (at least, as shown in the film) will surprise you, this is a story that, even if you've little acquaint-
ance with Las Vegas brothels, should have you feeling a bit been
-there, done-that.

Mirren (below) and Pesci play Grace and Charlie Bontempo, the owner-operators during the late 1970s of Nevada's first legalized brothel -- that "ranch" of the title.  Into their harried lives (he's a sleaze, she's overworked, and everything from cancer to the IRS is dogging them) comes a Latin American boxer named Armando (Peris-Mancheta) whom Pesci hopes to shepherd back to the championships.

Everything is laid out capably, if obviously, by the screenplay. There's a little too much coincidence afoot -- such as last-minute arrivals/departures geared to goose the suspense factor.  They do -- again, rather obviously -- but they also dilute credibility.

Hackford -- always good with actors -- gives the threesome their rein and they plow ahead with skill and feeling.  Mirren may at first seem a little too staid in this role (her accent is good, if generic), but it soon appears that there is reason for her holding back, and as the actress begins to breathe more freely and lets go, you're with her all the way.

It's good to see Pesci (shown at left) again, too. Absent from the screen (except for The Good Shepherd) for more than a decade, the actor seems in excellent form, and his energy level certainly belies his age.  The real find of the film, how-
ever, is Señor Peris-Mancheta (below).  He provides most of the surprises -- and a lot of the heart.  Initially a rather typical braggart, the actor slowly allows his character to open up, and by the finale he's been it/done it all, from sweet and sexy to brave, powerful, foolhardy, naive and heartbreaking.

One of Hackford/Jacobson's smartest moves is keeping the newly formed pair at arm's length for about half of the movie.  By the time they really connect, we're ready for it, and they are, too.  And this connection, because of its build-up and the manner in which it happens, is made all the more believable.  Among the supporting cast, only the brothel-ettes played by Gina Gershon, Taryn Manning and Scout Taylor-Compton get enough time to register, but Bai Ling (below and just to the right of Mirren) really does need to tackle the role of a nun, perhaps.  This over-the-top slut number -- which she does very well but far too often -- is growing tiresome (I should think for her, as much as for the audience.)

Mirren's many fans will probably line up for the movie -- if only to see what she's capable of doing next.  (For a riper and even more versatile version of the actress, you must watch her fun fiasco Shadowboxer, with Cuba Gooding, from 2005. Now that's a very naughty Miss Mirren indeed).

Love Ranch, from E1 (though you'd never know it, as nothing about this film seems to appear on the E1 website) opens Wednesday, June 30, in New York City at  the AMC Empire 25 and Landmark's Sunshine Cinema.

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