THE STORY – Encouraged by his fiancee, a man and his father spend the weekend with her wealthy and exceedingly eccentric family. The gathering soon develops into a culture clash, allowing father and son to discover the true meaning of family.
THE CAST – Bert Kreischer, Mark Hamill, Jimmy Tatro, Iva Babić, Stephanie Kurtzuba & Jessica Gabor
THE TEAM – Peter Atencio (Director), Kevin Biegel & Scotty Landes (Writers)
THE RUNNING TIME – 112 Minutes
Stand-up comedian, Bert Kreischer’s life is truly stranger than fiction. While in college, Kreischer’s hard partying gained him national recognition, even leading to Oliver Stone buying the rights to his life story. That film fell through but eventually inspired, without Kreischer’s involvement or approval, the Ryan Reynolds film “National Lampoon’s Van Wilder.” As Kreischer developed a successful career as a comedian and podcaster, another wild story from his life went viral titled “The Machine.” It’s the wild story about how Kreischer inadvertently helped the Russian mob rob a train in Moscow. Kreischer’s feature film debut of the same name serves as a follow-up to that story. Sadly, fiction just doesn’t seem to live up to the original story. “The Machine” tells an absurd story that’s only marginally funny and only serves up mildly entertaining action. The memorability of Kreischer’s storytelling is lost in the transition to film, making for a forgettable action comedy.
The biggest struggle in “The Machine” is the first act, before the action elements kick in. Kreischer plays a semi-fictionalized version of himself in “The Machine,” which opens with a montage of his career. The montage briefly recaps his viral bit about “The Machine,” but one may feel like they’re missing information without watching the actual clip in its entirety before seeing the film. As “The Machine” sets up Bert and his family, the writing is so desperately unfunny and unoriginal that it’s painful to sit through. From the opening scene of the family in therapy (what better way to get out some exposition?) to the CBS-sitcom-style jokes, “The Machine” didn’t have a promising beginning. After publicly embarrassing his older daughter (Jessica Gabor), Bert struggles to connect with his kids and steps away from his career. But after a Russian mobster sees his “Machine” clip go viral, Bert and his estranged father, Albert (Mark Hamill), are kidnapped.
It’s worth noting that, despite Kreischer’s successful stand-up career, this film is written by Kevin Biegel and Scotty Landes. Much like last year’s “Easter Sunday,” starring comedian Jo Koy, the simple day-to-day interactions feel like rushed setups for lame jokes rather than legitimate storytelling. It’s only when Bert and Albert arrive in Russia with mobster Irina (Iva Babić) does the movie take shape, more or less. Bert stole a significant pocket watch in his youthful escapades with the mob. Irina wants Bert to find it, and she’ll kill his daughter if he fails. What follows is a generic plot, chasing down leads and retracing the steps of Bert’s youth to find the watch. It’s generic, but it works for what it is. The plot moves well, alternating between their search for the watch and flashbacks to 1998, when the initial incident occurred. In a phenomenal piece of casting, Jimmy Tatro plays a young Bert. We get painfully too few of these flashbacks, but Tatro shines nonetheless. He’s somehow able to play a dunce with genuine layers. Although this is essentially his acting debut, Kreischer himself does a decent job when the writing isn’t dragging him down.
“The Machine” falls into that dreaded middle ground of movies, where it’s just okay. There’s not a lot to respond to intellectually or emotionally. The action sequences are serviceable, as are the jokes, though without any style. The plot is forgettable, but it works in the moment. This may be a passion project for Kreischer, but the passion doesn’t rub off on the audience. It’s admirable that the film rises above the dreadful first few minutes but doesn’t rise very far. “The Machine” is ultimately not funny enough to work as a comedy and not thrilling enough to work as an action movie. It’s just a middle-of-the-road movie that perhaps die-hard fans of Kreischer can appreciate more.