‘The Machine’ Review: Bert Kreischer Takes His Shirtless Standup Schtick to Russia

“The Machine” begins with Bert Kreischer — playing a fictional version of himself — telling his therapist that he’s struggling to cut back on calling his teenage daughter a cunt. Yes, he knows he should find a nicer nickname for her and his wife of 20 years. But in his elegantly chosen words, sometimes they just act like one. The globetrotting journey that follows — in which Kreischer travels to Russia and back in order to learn that his eldest child and his partner who gave birth to her might not be cunts — is bound to tug at the heartstrings of even the most stoic fathers. Another win for feminism.

Kreischer is well aware that he’s built a career out of making a complete ass of himself. (The fact that he owes his fortune to his willingness to publicly take his shirt off is a frequent conversation topic in “The Machine.”) So it shouldn’t surprise anyone but the most naive optimists that the film — which is based on his most famous stand-up bit — opts to give his audience what it wants by simply doubling down on the crassness. The comic’s preexisting fans should find plenty to love — it’s bound to be the cinematic event of the year for guys who base their entire personality around yelling “let’s gooooooo!” But anyone who goes in hoping for any kind of literary substance would be better off just reading the nutrition facts on their Junior Mints box.

Though Kreischer has been in the public eye for 25 years, his career exploded in 2015 when he went viral for telling Joe Rogan a story about a school-sponsored trip to Russia that he took in college. As he recalled it, Kreischer led a group of Russian gangsters in a spirited night of drinking that led to him being forced to rob a train and steal a pocket watch. He tried to tell his new friends that he was a badass, but his loose grasp on the Russian language led to him inadvertently giving himself the nickname “The Machine” instead.

The movie “The Machine” picks up a few years after that famed podcast hit, with the fictional Kreischer enjoying a lavish lifestyle thanks to the fame that the story brought him. But he decided to step away from the stage after realizing the toll that his hard-partying persona was taking on his family. The final straw came when he asked his 15-year-old daughter Sasha (Jessica Gabor) to pick him up after he got too inebriated to drive home one night — and proceeded to livestream the arrest when she was pulled over for driving without a license. Without his comedy career, he devotes all of his attention to mending the rift in his family — but he still gets recognized as “The Machine” everywhere he goes.

Bert attempts to be a normal dad at Sasha’s 16th birthday party, but his plans are foiled by the unexpected appearance of his father Albert (Mark Hamill). Albert owns the best carpet business in southwest Florida, and his understandable pride in that fact fills him with a cockiness that he uses to torment his son. He passive aggressively judges everything Bert does, from his grilling abilities to his ability to provide for his family without a job. But their father-son feud is quickly disrupted when Irina (Iva Babic), a tough-as-nails Russian criminal, shows up to beat the shit out of Bert.

As it turns out, his viral stand-up bit made its way to the Russian mobster who has spent 25 years looking for his missing pocket watch. He deputized his brutal daughter to get it back, and when Bert reveals that he doesn’t have it, she forces both him and his father to accompany her to Russia to search for it. (The movie is a lot better if you don’t question why Irina assumes that Bert knows the location of a piece of jewelry he hasn’t seen in a quarter century that’s floating around somewhere in a country that spans two continents.)

When they get to Russia, Bert opts to retrace his steps to try and find where he last saw the watch. But his drunken memories are rather hazy, so the unlikely trio embark on a “Hangover”-style attempt to recreate the trip. First they visit the dorms he stayed in and find the stash of weed brownies that he buried in the wall. Then they take the train from Moscow and get drunk on the bar car where the theft took place. But Russian mafiosos are not known for their patience, so Bert’s inability to find the watch quickly pisses off an endless stream of Russian goons that they have to fight.

Making Bert recreate the trip is a clever device for turning a stand-up bit into a film, as the different locations serve as backdrops for the comic to perform segments of his stage routine. But “The Machine” really goes off the rails when it tries to turn itself into an action movie. The blandly violent fight sequences are only watchable because Hamill gets the occasional opportunity to show off his dorky-dad-on-cocaine schtick between punches — at one point he gleefully refers to himself as “Molly Parton” after enjoying a bunch of drugs. Kreischer eventually realizes that he has to get drunk and take his shirt off if he wants to save the day, a conclusion so painfully inevitable that you’ll curse yourself for sitting through the 90 minutes it takes him to get there.

While it’s nice to see Bert and Albert finally enjoy some of the father-son bonding that has always eluded them, it’s a little unclear what anyone actually learns in the process. The film begins with Bert cutting drugs and alcohol out of his life for the sake of his family… then he goes to Russia and gets shitfaced in order to learn what really matters in life. But hey, his wife and daughters seem happy at the end, so who are we to judge? Maybe now he’ll be enough of a gentleman to merely call them “crazy bitches” when he gets mad.

Grade: C-

A Sony release, “The Machine” opens in theaters on Friday, May 26.

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