Assessing ‘The Machine’: Bert Kreischer’s Action-Comedy Offers Thrills, Yet Falls Short on Laughter
I was first introduced to Bert Kreischer’s “Machine” bit during my Thanksgiving break in college. My friend poured shots of authentic Russian vodka and while we were lounging around, he decided to show me and another friend Kreischer’s bit. I’d always been fond of stand-up comedy, but Kreischer’s way of telling stories and making me laugh was really something special. The next day I watched the two specials Kreischer had out on Netflix and I very quickly became a fan of his. For those unfamiliar with the legend of The Machine, the story is that Kreischer partied hard alongside the Russian mafia while he was an exchange student, which resulted in him robbing a train with a gang of mobsters.
When it was announced that Kreischer would be making his movie debut with The Machine, I obviously was extremely excited. Directed by Peter Atencio, who did the highly underrated Key & Peele movie Keanu, and co-starring Mark Hamill as Kreischer’s father, it was cool to see Kreischer getting a chance to tell this story on the big screen. Unfortunately, for a time, it looked like the film was in danger of being shelved due to the Russia-Ukraine War. This led Kreischer to take matters into his own hands. He “leaked” the trailer and the positive response resulted in Legendary Pictures teaming up with Sony to release the film.
In The Machine, Kreischer plays a fictionalized version of himself. Much like his real-life counterpart, he’s gained fame from telling his Machine story on-stage, which has led to him scoring merchandising deals, appearing on late-night talk shows, and co-hosting the highly successful podcast 2 Bears 1 Cave with his best friend Tom Segura. At the start of the film, Kreischer has fallen on hard times. His partying has gotten completely out of control, to the point where he live-streamed his 16-year-old daughter Sasha (Jessica Gabor) getting arrested, and he’s canceled his stand-up tour due to “family issues.” While throwing a sweet sixteen party for Sasha, Kreischer is annoyed by the appearance of his father Albert (Hamill) who he has a strained relationship with. The party plans soon come to a screeching halt when Irna (Iva Babic), the daughter of a Russian crime lord, whisks the father and son off to Russia to retrieve something that Kreischer stole from her father during his college days.
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One of the aspects that stands out the most about The Machine is just how dark it gets. It’s not as frequently hilarious as one might expect the movie debut of a stand-up comedian to be. In fact, when we first meet Kreischer in the film, he’s not like the person we’ve seen doing stand-up or on podcasts. He’s actually flat out unlikable and an absolute trainwreck who is destroying every positive relationship he has. This makes the entire first act of the film rough. Nearly all the one-liners and jokes fall completely flat and make the film feel extremely awkward. The pacing in the first 30 minutes is sluggish and had me dreading the rest of the film’s nearly two-hour runtime.
Once the characters make it to Russia, The Machine becomes substantially more enjoyable. The jokes still aren’t as frequent or effective as fans might want, but the action is surprisingly well-shot and choreographed. There are not a lot of quick cuts and Atencio allows the violence to really play out. It even dares to get a little gross too. This also isn’t an ugly film to look at either as Atencio and cinematographer Eigil Bryld give the film a surprisingly very cinematic look, especially once the characters visit Russia. From the grandiose palaces occupied by mobsters, to the quaint villages, and the train, on a technical level the film is more than competent.
Kreischer brings his on-stage persona to the film for better and for worse as it sometimes negates when the film tries to have quieter moments. He plays himself as a Homer Simpson-type. He’s oafish, a little bit dense, but at the end of the day still has a good heart. Hamill is also serviceable in his role, but unfortunately, Kreischer and him don’t really have much chemistry with one another and feel like a mismatched pairing. Jimmy Tatro is believable in his role as a younger Bert. He is able to capture a lot of his mannerisms and comedic timing. However, the film’s real standout is Babic as Irina who nails playing both a badass femme fatale and is able to deliver some genuinely hilarious one-liners. Babic also works alongside Kreischer extremely well. Their banter with one another is at the center of the film’s best moments where Kreischer has to remove a piece of shrapnel from her leg.
Admittingly, The Machine runs way too long, especially for a comedy. Just as you think the film is about to reach its conclusion, it decides to chug along for another 30 minutes. The jokes still don’t come frequently enough either and many of the times the film attempts to be funny by dropping a one-liner or two, it is nowhere near as effective as it should be. Further, the pacing feels all over the place. There’s a subplot in the film’s flashbacks regarding a potential romance between a young Kreischer and a classmate that doesn’t go anywhere and also doesn’t add much to the movie, especially since Kreischer’s character is already married to another woman. You also don’t ever feel truly emotionally attached to the characters, as the film struggles between balancing more mean-spirited and cynical humor with moments that are meant to be heartfelt that instead just feel awkward and out-of-place.
It is genuinely great to see a comedy like this on the big screen again and Kreischer’s ability to market this movie is a feat in itself. The Machine has enough going in its favor to warrant a recommendation to fans of Kreischer’s stand-up comedy, but other audience members may walk out feeling empty.
The Machine is now playing in theaters.