In 2016, comedian Bert Kreischer went viral with a stand-up bit titled “The Machine”. With over 50 million views and climbing, the hilarious (and now famously shirtless) routine recounts a true story of how in 1995, during his boisterous college days, Bert went to Russia on a class trip, and through a series of drunken encounters, became involved with the Russian mafia. The wild tale involves meeting Russian gangsters, drinking endless amounts of vodka, and robbing the passengers of a train (his own classmates included)!
The clip propelled Kreischer into stardom, with his infectiously energetic, frat-boy party style of comedy landing him multiple Netflix specials and a handful of incredibly successful podcasts. Now the famous story of “The Machine” is being launched on to the silver screen in an action-comedy adaptation with Kreischer playing a heightened, semi-fictionalised himself, Jimmy Tatro (American Vandal) starring as college-days Bert, and Mark Hamill (Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back) as Bert’s intimidating, scrutinising, and demanding father.
In the present day, Bert has taken an absence from the comedy world and his social media after an incident which involved him livestreaming his own teenager daughter’s arrest for driving a drunk Bert home without a license. Relentlessly trying to better himself in therapy for his family, his attempts to improve his relationships usually fall short when grand displays of a giant sweet-sixteen birthday for his daughter, turn out to be exactly the opposite of what she wanted, furthering the distance between them.
On the fringe of his family’s love, Bert’s blood pressure rises when the arrival of his estranged father, Albert (Hamill) to the party. The two butt heads, egos, and emotional trauma before being interrupted by Irina (Iva Babic). Irina is on a mission from her father, to retrieve Bert and bring him back to Russia to find a pocket watch that he stole with the Russian mafia almost 30 years previously. Not wanting to leave his son alone in danger, and somewhat forced by golden-gun point, Albert joins Bert and the two must recreate Bert’s drunken escapades (seen throughout the film through flashbacks back to the events involving younger Bert, played by Tatro) from all those years ago, or in classic mafia style, be killed.
The Machine is relentless, ridiculously, and juvenilely funny. Which if you’re a fan of, or simply just know the work of Bert Kreischer, you’ll know exactly what you’re getting into with this film. How much of this insane story of “The Machine” is actually true can definitely be put up for debate, but the constant increasing debauchery which includes hilarious banter, outrageous violence and a good dose of substance intoxication, while not a flawless movie, is pretty damn fun.
Even admitting to his own surprise during many interviews for the film, Kreischer is a surprisingly engaging actor. It’s odd to say that his performance feels toned down compared to his usually loud and rambunctious stand up comedy style, but he really does anchor down this movie with a solid performance. Kreischer still has a biting wit and laugh-out-loud one-liners or reactions, but there are a handful of scenes within the film (particularly involving interacting with his family) in which there is an authentic sense of Bert the family man, and not just Bert “The Machine”, which is a topic that comes up often with in the story.
Mark Hamill is having a blast in the film, and that fun he is having playing this slowly unravelling father figure bounces off the screen with delight. Hamill’s chemistry with Kreischer is one of the highlights of The Machine, with the two even going as far to reference their favourite movie to watch together was Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, in which their relationship absolutely gives off that vibe. Later in the film, when Hamill gets to be a little more unhinged than we’ve seen him on screen before (outside of the Joker, that is), lends itself to some truly funny moments, and one very well-earned F-bomb from the guy we all know and love as Luke Skywalker. Jimmy Tatro also does a great job at matching Bert’s energy on screen, and while some of the flashbacks can feel elongated or introduce subplots that don’t feel as necessary to the story, Tatro is also an engaging presence on screen with humorous, Labrador-style charm.
Director Peter Atencio (Keanu) has crafted some intense and over-the-top set pieces that contain the right amount of comedic gore and violence, provoking an equal amount of laughter and disgust. The combat and shootouts aren’t on the level of action that they’re completely jaw-dropping, but they’re enjoyable enough to lend merit to the ‘action’ part of action-comedy. There are moments where Atencio uses quite immersive and dynamic camera movements to enhance the action or tension, but unfortunately, they are few and far between that there is a feeling that it wasn’t used enough to be effective.
The Machine’s biggest fault is that it’s a perfect 90-minute comedy that has been extended and padded our to 110 minutes with a lot of prolonged scenes that do feel like they go on forever, or scenes that just feel unnecessary to propel the story forward. The film feels like the first draft of the script was filmed, and nothing was cut out at all to keep that feeling of relentless energy pumping from start to finish. The Machine starts really strong, but the loses of a lot of momentum with its frustrating pacing.
In a modern cinematic world where a movie like The Machine probably would’ve been sold to streaming, it’s nice to see that a mid-level budget, completely wild, action-comedy gets a cinema release. It’s by no means a journey that needs to be witnessed on the big screen, but if you’re a fan of Bert Kreischer and need a good laugh in the vein of films like 2014s The Interview, then this is one worth checking out!
The Machine is in cinemas May 25, courtesy of Sony Pictures.
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