Monday, June 28, 2010

Family Fun: The Love Ranch

Meanwhile back at the ranch, commerce was being conducted, but not a lot was reported to the IRS. Such were the business practices of Charlie and Grace Bontempo, not so loosely based on the Joe Conforte and Sally Burgess, the husband-and-wife owners of the notorious Mustang Ranch, Nevada’s first legal brothel. Business is brisk, but infidelity complicates matters in Taylor Hackford’s cinematic Roman รก brothel, Love Ranch (trailer here), starring his wife Helen Mirren, which opens in New York this Wednesday.

Charlie Bontempo is what the newspapers like to call colorful. He greases the palms of the local cops and politicians, while his wife Grace keeps the books—both the real ones and those they show the government. Since she knows where all the bodies are buried, fooling around with the hired help is a very bad idea, but the high-flying Bontempo cannot resist.

In a play for big time Vegas street cred, Bontempo buys the contract of Armando Bruza, an Argentine boxer who was once a title contender. For publicity, he has the fighter train at the Ranch. However, since he has a criminal record, he must register his wife as Bruza’s manager, thereby guaranteeing the odd couple will spend time together. Yet, somehow he is shocked when they start up an affair, perhaps because of their rather obvious age difference.

Indeed, the scenes between Bruza and his reluctant manager are the strongest of the film. Always an interesting actress to watch, Helen Mirren brings depth to Grace Bontempo that the film probably does not deserve. Spanish actor Sergio Peris-Mencheta also humanizes the big Argentine lug quite effectively and has some nice chemistry with Mirren. Unfortunately, Joe Pesci is totally schticky as Charlie Bontempo and the lovely and talented Gina Gershon and Bai Ling are completely wasted as Ranch “employees.”

The true story of the Mustang Ranch and Oscar Bonavena, the Argentine fighter on whom Bruza is obviously based, is pretty crazy. Yet somehow, Ranch never really builds up much momentum. It seems like the film gets hung up on the shag carpet of its scrupulously ugly period details. Still, as always, Mirren turns in a compelling performance. Essentially, she is the movie, with an occasional assist from Peris-Mencheta. Occasionally diverting but mostly just forgettable, Ranch opens in New York this Wednesday (6/30) at the AMC Empire 25 and Sunshine Theaters.