A marvelous thought, credited to Orson Welles: You can handle shit with velvet gloves, but the gloves only get shittier; the shit doesn’t get glovier. As wondrous as the regal Helen Mirren can be, it’s a sad day when her queenly demeanor gets dunked in doo-doo. To declare that the actor, playing an imperious Reno brothel owner in Love Ranch, anchors the movie in pathos is to ignore other factors, such as the rest of the film. This is a mid-1970s-set trashfest that finds room for Casino’s stupefyingly profane Joe Pesci and the slutterific Gina Gershon of Showgirls—and still desperately wants you to take it seriously. That’s not to say you won’t have fun here; quite the opposite. But for once, Mirren seems like she’s coasting in her fur coats and borrowed Dietrich attitude.
Grace and Charlie Bontempo (Mirren and Pesci) run the titular love shack, based on the real-life Mustang Ranch and its once-married proprietors. Cash registers are ringing even as holy rollers protest outside. Yet into their strumpet-adorned living space comes trouble: Argentine boxer Armando (Peris-Mencheta), who takes a secret shine to Grace, thawing in his heat, while her wayward husband only sees a potential moneymaker. “I’ve got 25 psychotic whores to manage—my dance card is full,” spits Mirren in a passable regional accent (Pesci remains from Planet Pesci) as the film slides toward its inevitably tragic triangle. Against All Odds’ Taylor Hackford (Mirren’s husband) directs the laugh-out-loud-ridiculous material toward a comforting average; Love Ranch might have worked better on late-night premium cable, where its naughtiness and high-toned cast might have been confused for adventurousness.—Joshua Rothkopf
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