I had been looking forward to seeing Love Ranch for ages as it stars the always wonderful Helen Mirren and Joe Pesci, who came out of his ten year retirement for the movie. Love Ranch is based on the true story of Joe Conforte, who owned the first legal brothel in the U.S., his wife Sally Burgess Conforte and Argentinian boxer Oscar Bonavena who was having an affair with Sally when he was shot dead at the ranch in 1976. Unfortunately even with juicy source material like this the movie struggles along for its duration.
I was hoping that the movie would centre on the goings-on in the Love Ranch – arguments between hookers, clients who test their patience, how they spend their nights off, etc. After all, the first legal brothel in Nevada is bound to be a setting ripe for story telling. Instead, the movie focusses on the relationships between the three main characters. Pesci does his usual turn as an obnoxious slimy thug and Mirren is his long suffering wife who turns her back on his numerous extra marital affairs. Her interest is piqued by Armando Bruza, played by Sergio Peris-Mencheta, a boxer whose contract her husband has bought and the two start a “May-December” romance. This slows the pace of the movie right down and those viewers hoping for an intimate look at a whorehouse instead are treated to close-ups of a burgeoning love affair.
Mirren’s husband Taylor Hackford directed the movie and one can only assume that this is the main reason she agreed to star as it’s certainly a few rungs below her usual material. Playing a madam with a heart of gold hardly tests her acting chops and she even adopts a neutral American accent, almost a reflection of her non-commitment to the part. It’s nice to see Pesci back on screen even if he is picking up exactly where he left off. The supporting cast includes Gina Gershon, Taryn Manning and Bai Ling (whom I only know from Go Fug Yourself and who would be last on anyone’s list of actresses to appear in a movie with Helen Mirren) as some of the many hookers who work at the Love Ranch.
All in all it’s a terribly disappointing film given the fertile ground the writer had to work with. One to avoid.