Small Engine Repair
Another week; another Shea Whigham movie – this one’s “Small Engine Repair” (available in theaters beginning Friday, Sept. 10).
“SER” sorta feels like a depraved version of “Three Men and Baby” only fast forwarded 18 years and married to Peter Berg’s directorial debut “Very Bad Things.”
Frank (John Pollono), Swaino (Jon Bernthal) and Packie (Whigham) are lifelong friends based out of Manchester, N.H. They’re a trio of blue collar, middle-aged, hard-drinkin’, harder-fightin’, foul-mouthed dudes. Frank has an 18-year-old daughter named Crystal (Ciara Bravo, “Cherry”) who was the result of an ill-fated relationship with party girl Karen (Jordana Spiro, late of Netflix’s “Fear Street” flicks). When Frank went away for a 5 year prison stint, Swaino and Packie looked after Crystal. She’s like the daughter they never had. In spite of this, now that she’s 18 they’ll bum her smokes and they all curse like sailors at one another.
Following a barroom brawl Frank tells Swaino and Packie that he doesn’t wanna see them anymore. The men take Frank at his word and they don’t speak or see each other for 3 months. Frank, out of the blue, reaches out to his pals and invites them over to his small engine repair business for a hang. He tells Swaino there will be strippers. He tells Packie he has cancer. He’s lying to them both and has an ulterior motive.
Frank plies his buddies with grilled steaks, booze, weed and coke. To further the festivities Frank also invites Chad (Spencer House of Netflix’s “Space Force”), an affluent college kid with whom he’s been playing pickup basketball, in order to buy Molly off of him. Events quickly escalate out of control.
Pollono makes his feature directorial debut adapting his play of the same name. Pollono and Bernthal reprise their roles while Whigham stands in for James Ransone (adult Eddie Kaspbrak in “It Chapter Two”). The movie is expectedly stagey while simultaneously being sneakily cinematic. Pollono ratchets up the tension like an old hand. He also deftly directs five outstanding performances from his castmates as Bernthal, Whigham, Bravo, Spiro and House are all uniformly excellent. Pollono does exemplary work on screen too.
Folks offended by bad language need not apply as we’re firmly in F-bomb territory here. This movie has to be giving “The Wolf of Wall Street” (569 F-bombs) and “Uncut Gems” (560 F-bombs) a run for their money. “SER” ultimately has more than F-bombs on its mind however – it’s a funny and disturbing dissection of toxic masculinity. We see how these behaviors were modeled for this trio by their fathers. It’s especially stinging when Swaino asks Chad, “What’s it like having a father you’re not ashamed of?,” to which Chad replies, “Good, I guess.” It’s also ironic to hear these guys’ locker room talk juxtaposed with how protective they are of Crystal.
Sadly, I could relate to these fellas to a certain extent. I’m not advocating their behavior by any means, but I could see my brother and I doing the same shit were someone to mess with one my nieces. “SER” gave me a lot to chew on. Superficially, it reinforced that Bernthal has one of the best heads of hair in Hollywood and made me think I’d like Pollono in reality (he chose Sturgill Simpson’s “All Said and Done” to play over the closing credits and dedicated the picture to his deceased dog). On a deeper level it made me question my actions and trains of thought. “SER” concludes too tidily, but I suspect it’s gonna linger with me for a good long while.