Movie Review: Small Engine Repair

The first time I saw him was as a teacher in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, one of my favorite movies of 2015. He was also in one of my favorite movies of 2017 -- Wind River (that film took an unfortunate hit because it was the last movie Harvey Weinstein was involved in). Again, Bernthal was amazing in it.

My wife knew who he was before me, because she watches The Walking Dead.

In this indie picture, he plays Swaino, a guy who rides a motorcycle, sleeps with lots of women, and hangs out with his two friends -- Frank (played by John Pollono, who wrote and directed), and Packie (Shea Whigham), who’s a bit slow on the uptake. They’ve been childhood friends in Manchester, all of them are a big part of Frank’s daughter Crysal’s life (she’s played by Ciara Bravo of Cherry). At a Christmas dinner with this group, she tells them a few things about her plans for college.

The weird thing about this script is that there are moments you enjoy the conversations and the ribbing they give each other. Yet those always seem to be followed by scenes where we just think these are a bunch of d-bags that we wouldn’t want anything to do with in real life. Yet they’re asking us to spend a few hours watching their antics. But the dialogue is interesting enough that in the first half, you don’t feel like you’re wasting your time (in the second half of the movie, my wife and I did).

We meet Frank’s ex-wife, and she’s so over-the-top as a loser, party mom -- you just can’t buy her as anything but a movie character. And at a point in the movie where Frank is making headway with a woman at the bar, she and daughter show up and almost derail it. You wonder why Frank would let that happen, or hand his daughter his credit card. Nothing about that scene makes a lick of sense.

Another thing that doesn’t make sense is...they’ve set up this Frank character as someone with a hot temper, who has done jail time for getting into fights. Yet they talk him into going to a bar and...guess what happens? Yep. He gets into a fight. What doesn’t make sense he didn’t get arrested and do jail time for that. He beats a guy so badly, I’m not even sure the dude survived. Frank blames the fight on his buddies because he didn’t even want to go to the bar, and they’re the ones that started mixing it up with another group. He ends the friendship right there, but three months later invites them to the small engine repair shop he runs, hoping they can all make up. He buys expensive booze, grills steaks, and has ordered a big pay per view fight.

For reasons the guys can’t figure out, Frank also invited a much younger guy (Spencer House) that he plays basketball with. He’s also a small-time drug dealer, and he’s going to bring them some Molly. Swaino asks some questions about this that we all have watching this. And it’s easy to guess that something bad is probably going to happen.

Pollono adapted this, making his directorial debut, from the award-winning play. While he shows some signs of talent, he makes things a bit predictable. And the female characters are a bit underwritten, and also written poorly. The daughter should be a bit more likeable. The mother should also be more realistically written. Pollono thrives best writing the bro characters, whose way of showing affection is by talking to each other with insults like they’re Andrew Dice Clay. And one character is so slow, you wonder why they’d continue to hang out with a person with such a low IQ. Whether you’re childhood friends or not, there comes a time when you’re an adult and you just stop hanging out with stupid people, no matter how long you’ve known them. And there will come a point in this movie where you’ll ask yourself why you want to spend two hours watching them. And that’s a shame, because there was some potential here.

2 stars out of 5.

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