No love for Love Ranch

Post by Kerri Brkich in

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A good cast and sexy subject matter still can't help this movie

In the opening scene of the movie Love Ranch, which was released on DVD November 9th, Joe Pesci lights up a cigar that’s wrapped in a $100 bill—a vulgar display of wealth, decadence, and excess. Unfortunately, it came off as clichéd, and the whole first half of this film wallows in mediocrity. Things improve in the second half, but don’t feel believable due to the weak story arc development.

The movie is directed by Taylor Hackford and stars academy award winner, Helen Mirren, and academy award nominee, Joe Pesci, as real life married couple Grace and Charlie Bontempo. In 1976, they were the owners of the first legal brothel in Reno, Nevada. It also introduces us to Sergio Peris-Mencheta, who plays Argentinean boxing champion Armando Bruza.

The drama is based on real events surrounding a love triangle that ends in murder. Charlie “Good Times” Bontempo is a sleezy, dirty, hustler, who divides his time between intimidating people to vote for the right sheriff, and sleeping with the “working girls” at his ranch. His long suffering wife Grace does her part by dutifully running the operations of the brothel, and turning a blind eye to Charlie’s indiscretions.

The story is moved by two important developments—Grace finds out she has cancer and is dying, and Charlie brings boxer Armando Bruza to the ranch, convinced he is backing the next champion to face Ali.

The movie fails because, some decent performances notwithstanding, the characters are two-dimensional and the scenes feel disconnected. We know that Charlie’s a “bad guy” because the director hits us over the head with it in one or two scenes that serve no purpose except to establish his tough guy credentials. For the same reasons, we know that Grace is damaged but kind and Bruza is the boxer with the heart of gold—that’s exactly how they’re portrayed in one or two set-up scenes. There are no nuances or subtlety to the story telling, and I felt like I was watching a series of vignettes rather than a movie. There is also no depth of understanding around what motivates these people—again, we are given tiny, superficial glimpses of what makes these characters tick.

For that reason, the love story that develops between Grace and Bruza felt totally contrived. For the first half of the movie, I couldn’t tell if Bruza was sincere about how he felt about Grace, or if he was playing her, which is too bad because Mirren and Peris-Mencheta come alive at the end of the film, especially once Grace comes to terms with leaving her husband to live out the short time she has left with Bruza.

I was probably just distracted by yet another role where Pesci plays a mean, angry little man. There’s nothing new in his portrayal of Charlie Good Times, and there were moments where it felt like a caricature of Tommy DeVito from “Good Fellas.”

Overall, Love Ranch has a few good moments, but is nothing noteworthy.

- post by Kerri

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