|Among the cast in the drama “Love Ranch’’ are Gina Gershon (left) and Helen Mirren (right).|
‘Ranch’ in middle of nowhere
Have you been waiting for Helen Mirren to run the best little whorehouse in Reno? Have you been waiting for her to do so with a pile of blond hair, married to Joe Pesci, but desperately in love with an Argentine boxer — all in a movie directed by Dame Helen’s husband? Yes? Well, you’re likely to have “Love Ranch,’’ the movie that makes these dreams come true, all to yourself.
Why wonder how this happened? It just has. Mr. Helen Mirren, Taylor Hackford, the director of such so-so entertainments as “Ray,’’ takes his time getting us nowhere in particular. We’re in 1976 Nevada, where prostitution is perfectly legal, and Mirren and Pesci play Grace and Charlie Bontempo. They run the Love Ranch, which appears to be based on the soapy story of the Mustang Ranch, the state’s first licensed brothel. Grace keeps the books. Charlie beds the staff (well, he doesn’t use a bed exactly). He sinks some of their money into Armando Bruza (Sergio Peris-Mencheta), a boxer eager for a rematch against Muhammad Ali. Judging from Bruza’s performance during a terribly staged fight sequence, Ali could simply have phoned in his left hooks from the set of “The Greatest.’’
I suppose Charlie’s mistake is to make Grace Bruza’s manager. The movie’s mistake is to make the attraction obvious after 20 minutes but spend an hour unfurling it. Usually, that’s called restraint. But here, with not much else going on, it’s ridiculous. Peris-Mencheta has a dubious boxing physique but muscular charisma. The movie’s teary, confessional final act does him no favors.
To play the ladies of Love Ranch, the movie rounds up the usual suspects — Gina Gershon, Taryn Manning, Bai Ling — and a few women, like Elise Neal and Scout Taylor-Compton, who seem happy to be here. Presumably, they came for Mirren’s career advice (girls, stick to queens and alcoholic detectives). As it is, they have nothing to do but bicker and look sexy doing very little. Only Manning is really any good.
Hair and clothes provide the movie’s only real sense of history (afros, mustaches, butterfly collars) — and a marquee threatens the arrival of the Captain and Tennille. Otherwise, we could be anywhere on the time-space continuum. Cancer, comas, and craniotomies are used as melodramatic devices, though they do nothing to shrink the movie’s running time.
Meanwhile, the actors are free to behave as they please, no one more so than Pesci, who’s not far from where he made Martin Scorsese’s “Casino’’ in 1995. That’s merely a geographical observation. Pesci has made sporadic movie appearances since then. On the one hand, it’s nice to see him. On the other, he appears to have taken the part on the condition that he play another of his famous yapping psychopaths. If Pesci really needs to petulantly wipe all the furniture from a desk and make every other word an expletive, who is Hackford to tell him, “No’’?
Still, it’s the sort of performance an actor finds molding at the back of his creative refrigerator. It’s also a little embarrassing listening to him speak that way to Mirren, who’s heard worse but deserves better. She comports herself with a good deal more inspiration. Yet she’s borderline shameless herself. With more than professionalism, she recites the dialogue in Mark Jacobson’s script, including such lines as, “My mom used to bring me here’’ —dramatic pause — “when she wasn’t drinking.’’
Material this banal needs a madman of David Lynch proportions to incinerate it. Hackford leaves it intact, forcing us to regard a car he doesn’t have the guts or skill to crash.