Limp Whorehouse Drama Is Not Pesci’s Second Coming

06/30/2010 12:00 PM |

Love Ranch
Directed by Taylor Hackford

Love Ranch boasts Joe Pesci’s first major role since 1998’s Lethal Weapon 4, and that by itself creates ludicrous expectations, given that the last time Pesci retired he was lured back by a little film called Raging Bull.

Ranch inevitably falls short of those lofty hopes, but it’s great to have him back, even in something as predictable and sentimental as this. He plays Charlie Botempo, co-operator of Nevada’s first legal brothel with wife Grace, played by Helen Mirren, the only actress who can only match him in intensity while topping the rest of the cast in pure sex appeal. (Her competition includes Gina Gershon, whose mere participation in Showgirls carries over to make things authentically sleazy here.)

Into this dynamic comes Armando Bruza, a hunky boxer played by Sergio Peris-Menceta in a tender performance that suggests what Rocky Balboa would be like if he paid women for sex. Bruza sets his sights on Grace just as Charlie contracts him and names her his manager. The two grow close while dealing with Charlie’s LaMotta-esque jealousy on one hand and an encroaching federal investigation/civilian crusade to shut down the ranch on the other.

This is all pretty by the books, though the performances elevate director Taylor Hackford’s (Ray) pedestrian take on the story. A whorehouse struggling with its newfound legitimacy certainly makes for a promising setting, but there’s not much insight here into what it would be like to actually run one with your spouse.

Nonetheless, Pesci rants and swears like no one else can and Mirren clearly has fun beating troublesome hookers with a cane. That kind of material goes a long way, but here, it’s not enough.

Opens June 30