By Fred Topel | Image property of E1 Entertainment
The first problem with Love Ranch is that it’s not about what it’s supposed to be about. Now I can handle a movie circumventing expectations. It just has to be good at what it ends up being. That’s maybe the second or third problem, in no particular order. So Love Ranch isn’t actually about a legal brothel, what it’s about instead isn’t very good, and that’s not all.
Review: Love Ranch
I wonder if that’s why they had to fictionalize the story. It’s “inspired by a true story” because actual brothel proprietors would focus on their business and now some other wild tangent. But in Love Ranch, Charlie Bontempo (Joe Pesci) buys a boxer’s contract, then makes his madame wife Grace (Helen Mirren) his manager.
Now if they wanted to make a boxing movie, why go to all the trouble of setting it in the world of legalized prostitution? That seems unnecessary. More likely, they didn’t have enough story in the prostitution, so they made up some gimmick to move the story along. Either way, it’s not a very good boxing movie either.
It’s all swagger and bravado instead of character. Sure, real hustlers are like that, but you don’t pay them to make movies because they’re not interesting. At least you get to see Pesci do “angry Joe” again. Grace has to placate him, but it’s all melodrama and yelling. The material is way beneath the actors. It’s one of those movies where a sudden phone call keeps one character from telling the other vital information, so that it can be a surprise at the end.
The script is so bad that Charlie actually says the same line twice. Not an important line. It’s just “What f***in’ way to start the new year” after something chaotic happens. Because we didn’t know it was outrageous when we saw it, and we didn’t know it was outrageous the first time he said the line, he had to say it again. Or maybe the screenwriter just forgot that he already said it, and the director forgot that he’d already put it in the film, and Pesci just thought it was a retake.
It opens right in the thick of the business with a New Year’s party. It’s not quite Boogie Nights festivities, but it introduces the world. Charlie smokes a cigar wrapped in a $100 bill. That’s pretty badass. There’s boobies, and natural ones too. These are authentic ‘70s bodies. You even get an accidental glimpse of Mirren’s during a fade out. You’ll be able to freeze frame it on the DVD.
As far as portraying a world though, there’s no sense that this is anything special. For one, Charlie’s already cheating on Grace when the movie starts, so at what point was this ever an ideal sort of paradise from which they could fall from grace? And if it’s supposed to be a raw and real portrayal of the hard life they live, why don’t we get to see that?
There’s only a few episodes of the crazy shenanigans that go on with the girls and the johns. That seems like a waste. We know from HBO that there’s more excitement going on at a brothel than just one Vietnam vet and a fat guy. There’s a tiny bit of in fighting and banter amongst the girls and showing how Grace handles her talent. Those are just episodes around this boxing scheme though.
There’s a few scenes dealing with religious protesters against the brothel. That feels like something they’d have to deal with, and raises the juicy issue of fighting for your rights even when you have the law on your side. Too bad those protests have absolutely zero impact on the story at all.
There is one good boxing scene, but I don’t care. It just feels like filler because they don’t have a story about the brothel like they were supposed to. It’s not that good. It’s just an actual bright spot when the rest of the movie doesn’t work at all.