Inspired by an incredible true story... As proprietors of Nevada's first legalized brothel, Grace (Helen Mirren) and Charlie Bontempo (Joe Pesci) aren't your typical married couple. When Grace falls for Bruza (Sergio Peris-Mencheta), a heavyweight boxer contracted to Charlie, passions erupt, leading to murderous consequences.
Not every actor can handle roles ranging from royal to madam--but then, Helen Mirren isn't every actor. Mirren, an Academy Award winner for 2006's The Queen
, is the best thing about director (and her real-life husband) Taylor Hackford's Love Ranch
, a tale "inspired by" the real-life adventures of Joe and Sally Conforte, owners of the Mustang Ranch, Nevada's notorious house of legal prostitution. As the film opens, it's New Year's Eve 1975, and for Grace Bontempo (Mirren) life is a drag. Her husband and business partner, Charlie (Joe Pesci, typecast in yet another role as a lowlife hustler and violent thug), openly cheats on her with the "girls," a catty bunch whom Grace wearily struggles to keep under control; meanwhile, Charlie is so preoccupied with maintaining his various scams and foisting the chore of keeping the whorehouse running on his long-suffering wife that he ignores her when she tries to tell him she's just been diagnosed with terminal cancer. When Charlie blithely announces that he has taken charge of the career of Argentinean heavyweight boxer Armando Bruza (Sergio Peris-Mencheta, in a role modeled after real fighter Oscar Bonavena) and plans to put him in the ring with Muhammad Ali, Grace is skeptical. Skepticism gives way to disbelief when Charlie insists that Grace be Bruza's manager, but that's nothing compared to her shock when the boxer, who's some 30 years her junior, comes on to her. Despite an intriguing story line, the film is fairly lifeless until the second hour, when Grace and Bruza get it on, followed in rapid succession by a brutal bout that Bruza barely survives, the arrival of the IRS and an investigation into the ranch's finances, and Grace's decision to run off with her studly new lover--all of which begets a variety of mostly unhappy consequences. But even at its best, it doesn't quite catch fire. Hackford has directed a few movies that were both good and successful, like Ray
and An Officer and a Gentleman
, but even his wife's best efforts can't quite put Love Ranch
into either of those categories. --Sam Graham