Something happened to Taylor Hackford’s “Love Ranch” on the way to its release. I’m not exactly sure what it was, seeing how the production was plagued by a number of financial setbacks, but something singular reached in and gutted what the filmmaker was originally intending. “Love Ranch” offers such a promising premise filled with sass, slaps, and sin, but the picture feels edited with a chainsaw, reducing Hackford’s story of desire to crummy Lifetime Movie theatrics, wasting the numerous gifts of Helen Mirren along the way.In rural Nevada during 1976, the Love Ranch ruled all. A popular brothel owned by hustler Charlie (Joe Pesci) and his bookkeeping wife Grace (Helen Mirren), the Ranch hosted a bevy of career prostitutes that kept the money flowing in, allowing Charlie to seize control of the local law enforcement and influence politicians (Bryan Cranston, in a cameo). Looking for a bigger score, Charlie welcomes Argentinean boxer Bruza (Sergio Peris-Mencheta) to the Ranch, housing the popular fighter in an effort to groom him for future sporting greatness. Bruza immediately falls in love with the land, but sets his sights on Grace, looking to thaw her frosty exterior with his manly charms. Grace, recently handed a death sentence of cancer, accepts Bruza’s flirtations, falling in love with the brute, finding their romance a way to escape Charlie’s wrath.
"Purpose snatched away"
With “The Devil’s Advocate” and “Proof of Life,” Taylor Hackford is no stranger to having movies spiral out of his control. However, “Love Ranch” doesn’t seem like a standard directorial goof. It’s a film that feels shaved down from its original purpose, with chunks of Mark Jacobson’s script yanked out to keep the running time just below two hours, sacrificing acres of character development and general motivational finesse in the process. “Love Ranch” isn’t a flagrant mess, but the cut corners add up quickly, with the second half of the film rendered positively nonsensical in the rush to mow everything down to the essentials.
Overall, the script is business as usual, detailing the workings of a gruff brothel owner dealing with general lawless and adulterous behavior while his knowing, silent wife watches on, internally sorting through her own set of problems. It’s nothing novel, but Hackford brings in real-life wife Mirren to spice up the acting department, while coaxing Pesci out of retirement to give Charlie a scrapper mentality, aping his work in Martin Scorsese’s “Casino.” It’s hard to believe Pesci hasn’t been featured prominently in a film since 1998, making the early moments of his work here enjoyable for their novelty. The two leads make a deep impression on this thin feature, sharply communicating the uneasy, invasive relationship between Charlie and Grace -- a union built on a shared appreciation of money that lost its luster years ago as temptation grew commonplace for the man of the house.
With Pesci in full Pesci mode, Mirren working out an ice queen angle, and the setting of a brothel, “Love Ranch” should’ve been the most entertaining, bawdy offering of the year. Cruelly, Hackford doesn’t touch the salacious qualities of the premise, choosing to ignore the workings of the sin palace to deal with Grace’s aching heart. A supporting cast that includes Gina Gershon, Elise Neal, Bai Ling, Taryn Manning, and Scout Taylor-Compton is wasted in the process, as the film practically ignores the Ranch outside of a few scenes of violence. Hackford brings some raunchy classic rock into the mix, but his sense of debauchery is missing -- the filmmaker prefers to treat the titular sex depot as a neon-drenched backdrop to mundane and bewildering matters of the heart.
Once Bruza enters the picture and puts the moves on Grace, “Love Ranch” ceases to make sense. Hackford instructs Peris-Mencheta to portray the character as someone slightly devious, harboring designs to usurp Charlie and take command of the Ranch, ruling with Grace. However, instead of protest, Grace falls head over heels for this young man, drawn to his looks and animalistic ways of the ring. The physical attraction is assumed, but there’s no logic in Grace’s devotion, which comes out of the blue. Bruza is a rather creepy fellow, with a dark, unexplained past and general ooze about him (his peniscillin apparently cures Grace’s bum knee too), accentuated in Peris-Mencheta broad performance. Grace seems too smart, too aware of scoundrels to fall for such a lout, but Hackford expresses the connection in corny Harlequin romance terms, making the film’s passions unintentionally humorous and dramatically ludicrous.By the final act, the film is beyond repair, arranging a series of hokey encounters for the love triangle that make the actors look foolish. Adding to the embarrassment is a last-minute bit of narration from Grace that ties the film together with convenient perfection, verbally detailing an extensive epilogue that should be seen, not heard. “Love Ranch” is an impressively wrapped package, but there’s no gift inside, just a discouraging void where I assume a real movie was supposed to be found at one point.
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originally posted: 11/06/10 06:00:12