Comic's starring debut goes to darker places than expected.
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Up until recently I only ever knew comedian Bert Kreischer from his appearances on Doug Benson’s podcast “Doug Loves Movies.” (This is not entirely true … I also know he served as the inspiration for Ryan Reynolds’ titular character in “National Lampoon’s Van Wilder.”) I’d seen trailers for Kreischer’s starring debut “The Machine” (now in theaters) and they piqued my interest. In order to do my due diligence I watched and greatly enjoyed Kreischer’s special of the same name beforehand.
Kreischer’s bit about being “The Machine” concerns his stint in the Russian mafia while spending a summer abroad as a college student in the late 1990s.
We see Young Bert (Jimmy Tatro) endear himself to his class’ gangster handler Igor (Marko Nedeljkovic) by claiming to be “The Machine” (he meant to call himself a badass … the words are very similar in Russian), drinking his face off and quoting American movies to which the mobster isn’t hip.
Bert opts to hang with another criminal named Fedor (Aleksander Sreckovic) aboard a train bound for Moscow as opposed to making time with his cool and cute classmate Ashley (Rita Bernard Shaw). The men get wrecked in the bar car and Fedor decides it’s time for he and “The Machine” to rob the train’s passengers … including Bert’s fellow students. Bert is forced at gunpoint to steal a family heirloom ring from Ashley. Speaking of family heirlooms, he and Fedor also pilfer a pocket watch belonging to a businessman (Viktor Savic).
We flash forward to the present day. Kreischer, playing himself, is a famous stand-up taking time away from the stage. His relationships with his wife LeeAnn (Stephanie Kurtzuba) and daughters Sasha (Jessica Gabor) and Tatiana (Amelie Villiers) are strained due to Kreischer’s hard-partying ways. Kreischer’s seeing a therapist (Brian Caspe) in hopes of becoming a better husband and father and to grapple with issues between he and his own Dad, Albert (Mark Hamill).
Turns out the businessman Bert robbed became Russia’s most powerful gangster afterwards – if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em … I suppose? The old man (Jovan Lole Savic – Viktor’s real-life Dad) sees Kreischer’s bit about being “The Machine” on television and wants his watch back. The gangster’s children Irina (Iva Babic), Alexei (Robert Maaser) and Vanya (Set Sjöstrand) are vying to become his heir apparent. Irina, the most industrious of the bunch, takes it upon herself to travel to Los Angeles, kidnaps Bert and Albert, brings the men back to Russia and forces them to assist her in finding her father’s watch.
“The Machine” is an action comedy that’s surprisingly heavier on the action and lighter on the comedy. As directed by Peter Atencio (he helmed the similarly schizophrenic “Key & Peele” flick “Keanu”) and written by Kevin Biegel (he co-created “Cougar Town” with Bill Lawrence) and Scotty Landes (he worked on “Workaholics” and penned the Octavia Spencer horror movie “Ma”) the film goes to much darker places than I expected. Multiple people get graphically shot and stabbed. One unfortunate bastard gets his throat slit and a fist is subsequently punched into it.
Kreischer is a better comedian than he is an actor, but he’s certainly passable. He has winning chemistry with a game Hamill and plays even better opposite Babic, who’s the stealth MVP of the proceedings. (Her character’s fandom of the sitcom “Family Matters” had me rolling.) Tatro is funny, likable and most importantly believable as Young Bert.
I don’t know how much appeal “The Machine” will have for mass audiences, but fans of Kreischer’s and dark comedies should have plenty on which to glom … even if things get kinda grody.