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I Would Do Anything for Love But I Won’t Do That

By Brian Prisco | Film | July 16, 2010 |

By Brian Prisco | Film | July 16, 2010 |

These are the words Helen Mirren should have spoken when her asshack of a hubbie asked her to be in his latest flick. I guess Taylor Hackford was getting sick of being treated like Helen’s handbag, an accessory she drags around to awards ceremonies and accidentally leaves in chairs, and so he wanted to make a movie again. The last time he unleashed his “talent” Jamie Foxx wore sunglasses for two years and sold out faster than you can sing “That’s the Real Thing.” Love Ranch is a purported bio-pic about Charlie and Grace Bontempo, the owners of the first legal brothel in Nevada. Hackford directs like a stupid, stupid ugly neighbor child playing loudly with expensive toys in the next yard, toys that he doesn’t deserve and will probably break. He unfurls his narrative like a D student giving a book report: This happens, and then this happens, and then some other stuff, and then it’s over. Taylor Hackford made one decent movie a long time ago, An Officer and a Gentleman, and he’s been trading on that cred ever since. He needs to sit in the same dressing room exterior chair with James Brolin and that “I’m Freaking Out” kid porking Christina Hendricks, and just squint and clap when Helen wins awards for her better films and pray to God he’s not cast into the wintry tundra of disharmony like Chad fucking Lowe.

The dominoes of predictability line up as you would expect with this re-hashed leftover of a TV Movie of the Week. Charlie Bontempo (Joe Pesci) is a piece of shit, who looks like Wayne Newton and Johnny Cash hatefucked a California Raisin after bad casino clams. He’s inexplicably married to the tough as nails Gracie (Helen Mirren), a woman with a queen’s stately manner and the hardscrabble asskicking of a wet tomcat. Grace is the queen bee of a hive of “psychotic whores”, and so she’s constantly putting out fires and wearily coping with Charlie’s dalliances. Charlie is a self-absorbed prick who spends his time doting on and shouting at his wife. He buys Gracie a fur coat, and then lets his harlot of the week wear it when he takes her out and fucks her on the sly.

Gracie finds out she has cancer, because of course she does, so she decides not to tell Charlie and rides out her last months on earth miserable. However, Charlie buys the debt of an Argentine prizefighter named Armando Bruza (newcomer Sergio Peris-Mencheta), who romps through the movie like an over affectionate puppydog, finally settling down on humping Grace. Maybe he’s out to get something, maybe not, but their courtship seems to consist entirely of him flirting twice, Mirren yelling, “BUT I’M OLD!” and then they love each other. I’m requesting a moratorium on directors putting their wives in sex scenes in films because it’s got all the gusto of an amateur webcam handjob. I realize Sam Mendes couldn’t get an erection unless he was watching the missus bone through a Panaflex, but seriously, it’s just not working for me. If you can’t make a Helen Mirren sex scene steamy, give it up. In fact, just give it up entirely.

Being bound by the facts may force you to stifle some of the artistry, but really, the film plays out like someone holding up index cards. In this scene, they argue about the finances. In this scene, Joe Pesci flirts with a whore. In this scene, we’ll bring in a boxer, so they can argue about that. In this scene, we’ll have Grace argue with the boxer. It’s so by the book you can actually see the page numbers at the top of the fucking frame.

To say Hackford wastes his cast is to say French cooking uses some butter. Helen Mirren is an Earthly treasure delivered unto us for our brief enjoyment on this planet. Hackford must be banking on his wife’s talent getting the film Oscar nominations. She deserves one, just for weathering this dreck without breaking a sweat, or her vows with a better man. Joe Pesci temporarily adopts his awful Truman Capotean speak from JFK and then kind of lets it drift away through the course of the film. And I love Pesci — he’s the go-to guy for Vegas stories about angry guys getting blowjobs during the 1970s and 1980s. Charlie Bontempo isn’t so much a character as scenes from other better movies. I feel like Hackford just said, “Remember Casino? Yeah, do that one.” The boxer really is an adorable hound of an actor, kind of slurring his lines like this wonderful combination of Javier Bardem and Gael Garcia Bernal. You have no idea what he’s saying, and you kinda get the feeling neither does he, but that’s okay, because he’s nice enough, so you give him a treat and go on to the next scene.

The rest of our cast is basically split into two: the hookers and the not hookers. Hackford gets Bryan Cranston as a shady governor, M.C. Gainey as a faithful lackey, and Wendell “The Bunk” Pierce as a Nation of Islam runner for Ali, and just kind of shuffles them through. I feel worse for the hookers because they’re cast about like yard sale Barbies: Gina Gershon as The Old One, Bai Ling as The Asian One, Taryn “I Will Always Be a Hooker From Before I Was Born” Manning as The Taryn Manning One, and Scout Taylor-Compton as The New One. There’s also The Black One and The Librarian One.

In the grand scheme of things, Love Ranch is a footnote at best. Like the brothel it shows us, it’ll be forgotten and torn down. Pesci will probably go back to the fishpond. Hackford will hopefully not make another film for maybe three or four more years. At best, it’ll be a quick link for playing Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. It barely takes a passing glance at the enormity of the first brothel being run by a woman, the efforts the two of them went through to essentially get prostitution legalized, the actual ups and downs of a sham marriage. Instead, it’s a really tepid overly dramatized stab at the It’s Complicated crowd who want to see the AARP sexied up for the masses. Congratulations, Hackford, you sullied your wife’s good name to make a bad Cialis commercial.

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