Bert Kreischer’s Drunken Anecdote The Machine Stumbles as a Film

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Bert Kreischer’s Drunken Anecdote The Machine Stumbles as a Film

Bert Kreischer’s shirtless stand-up comedy stylings do not translate into a laugh-out-loud feature film in Peter Atencio’s clumsy and clunky The Machine. Writers Kevin Biegel and Scotty Landes adapt Kreischer’s unbelievable viral story about robbing a train with Russian mobsters into a retrospective on the comedian’s tumultuous history with excess—a tonal misfire of fantastical absurdity clashing against emotional confessions. Kreischer’s larger-than-life international anecdote becomes an introspective crisis as the storyteller wrestles with Family Man Bert and Bert The Machine, which lands with weaker authenticity than Kreischer’s podcast conversations or his Netflix self-help show The Cabin. That’s less a knock on Kreischer’s commitment and more about Atencio’s struggles to control this gruelingly overlong, almost two-hour battle between an outlandish anti-action-hero journey and Kreischer’s put-to-screen demons.

The story begins 20 years after Bert Kreischer’s life-changing overseas incident. The consequences of Kreischer’s party-dad persona have strained his family relationships, especially with eldest daughter Sasha (Jess Gabor). Things get weird at Sasha’s Sweet Sixteen, where Kreischer and his nagging father Albert (a grumpy-gruff Mark Hamill) are kidnapped by Russian crime daughter Irina (Iva Babic) and flown to Russia. If Kreischer can locate a watch stolen the night of his drunken train ransack abroad, his family will be spared—but does modern-day Kreischer have what it takes to become The Machine one last time?

It’s not that The Machine is woefully unfunny. The Machine earns its chuckles when scenes lean into the exceptional surrealism of an exaggerated alternate reality where the older, self-deprecating Bert Kreischer can defeat Russian mafioso types. A hapless Kreischer headshots ganglords on accident or finds his fist punched inside his foe (the funniest scene by far), or reminisces about his semester in Russia as represented by his alcohol-soaked younger self (Jimmy Tatro gets plenty of mileage from his Austin Powers impression). Kreischer’s historic FSU partying habits (that inspired National Lampoon’s Van Wilder) put unfair expectations on The Machine—but when Kreischer unleashes the beast via vodka, like Popeye with spinach, Atencio feels more comfortable behind the camera. The “2 Bears, 1 Cave” podcast faithful will get some bonus laughs through scattered in-jokes.

What stalls these are the heavier exchanges between Kreischer and Albert, and Kreischer’s earlier breakdowns as a father failing the family he adores. The Machine isn’t front-to-back insanity, nor does Kreischer (the actor) navigate the performative complexity of transitioning from dad-bod badass to emotionally battered monologue-giver on a whim. There’s too much padding between casino-set throwdown destruction and gangland altercations with muscly, tattooed Bond villain wannabes that never pluck enough heartstrings, gumming the gears. Hamill’s casting as Kreischer’s overbearing dad pays off when narcotics may or may not enter the picture, but otherwise, the familial drama wears thin almost as soon as it’s introduced.

In a movie filled with golden-plated handguns and too many bald Ivans who want Kreischer dead, little fight choreography razzles and dazzles. Babic shoulders the strenuous assassin stuff instead of Kreischer, but even her expertly-trained hitwoman can appear rigid as she thwaps goons with a steel baton. There’s a half-speed tempo when fists fly and kicks land, less noticeable during gunfights where agile combat isn’t necessary. Still, the comedy of Kreischer’s inability to execute a kip-up is always more appealing than actual physical punishment, which makes that plodding duration feel that much frustratingly longer.

The Machine is a stumbling-drunk comedy that never finds its identity, caught between lackluster lesson-teaching and underwhelming insane-in-the-membrane storytelling. There’s no tonal continuity between puke gags, the shedding of toxic masculinity, Russian muscleheads commenting on Kreischer’s “man boobs,” and whimpering action beats. It’s a mix of feeding off low-hanging fruit and shooting too ambitiously, as Atencio struggles to manage thematic swerves less calculated than your grandmother trying to figure out Mario Kart on a Wiimote. Plain and simple? The Machine doesn’t live up to the greatest story Kreischer’s ever told on stage.

Director: Peter Atencio
Writer: Kevin Biegel, Scotty Landes
Starring: Bert Kreischer, Mark Hamill, Jimmy Tatro, Iva Babić, Stephanie Kurtzuba, Jessica Gabor
Release Date: May 26, 2023

Matt Donato is a Los Angeles-based film critic currently published on SlashFilm, Fangoria, Bloody Disgusting, and anywhere else he’s allowed to spread the gospel of Demon Wind. He is also a member of the Hollywood Critics Association. Definitely don’t feed him after midnight.

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