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Review: The Machine (2023)

The Machine (2023)

Directed by: Peter Atencio

Premise: Comedian Bert Kreischer (playing a fictionalized version of himself) has risen to fame and fortune with a bit about a run-in with the Russian mob. Mafia enforcers kidnap Bert and his father (Mark Hamill) and bring them to Russia to find a long-lost family heirloom.

What Works: Bert Kreischer made a name for himself with a public image as a loud party animal. His standup comedy is often performed shirtless and his act revolves around tales of drunken misadventures. The film The Machine is an extrapolation of a popular bit from Kreischer’s act in which he recalls traveling to Russia as a college student, befriending local gangsters, and ultimately assisting them in robbing the passengers of a train. The Machine picks up about twenty years later in which Kreischer has achieved great show business success, largely on the back of his Russia story, and Russian mobsters kidnap Kreischer and his father and force them to find a watch that was stolen in the robbery. The heirloom is just a MacGuffin; it’s a device to set the story in motion. The Machine is really about a man struggling with his identity. Kreischer’s character has lived his drunken public persona in a way that has caused a crisis in his family and earned the disapproval of his father. By returning to Russia, Kreischer confronts his past and The Machine is a surprisingly smart take on how we remember and romanticize stories of youthful drunkenness. Kreischer sees himself in a way that isn’t flattering and the editing of the film effectively interweaves past and present. The Machine is also about the relationship between fathers and their children. Kreischer struggles with parenthood and with his relationship to his own dad and the gangster story reveals a family power struggle that neatly complements Kreischer’s story. Bert Kreischer plays a fictionalized version of himself but he has some dramatic moments and he is a promising actor. Also impressive is Iva Babic as the female gangster escorting Kreischer across Russia. Babic has the ferocity and physicality of an action star but she also has great comic timing.

What Doesn’t: The Machine suffers from some inconsistencies in its approach. A core of the film is about Kreischer’s character demythologizing his own public identity and facing the reality of who he was as a young man and what he did. That clarity does not extend to Russia as a people or a nation.The gangsters are cartoonish Hollywood mafiosos and Russia as a whole remains a mysterious and Othered place not too far removed from the version of Kazakhstan seen in Borat. The major misstep occurs in the climax. The whole movie has deconstructed Kreischer’s “Machine” persona but at one point he chugs a bottle of liquor and turns into a superhero. The scene is inconsistent with the rest of the movie and misses an opportunity for ironic comedy; he could have succeeded in the fight not by a show of strength but by dumb luck in a way that would have made for fun physical comedy.

Bottom Line: The Machine is funny but also occasionally and surprisingly smart. The filmmakers struggle a bit with internal consistency but The Machine succeeds as a comedy and a sober reflection on drunken behavior.

Episode: #952 (June 11, 2023)