Taylor Hackford, the director who attracted widespread kudos for his 2004 Ray Charles biopic, proves incapable of fitfully exploiting more pulpy subject matter. Based on real-life exploits of the husband-and-wife team (Joe and Sally Conforte) that opened and operated Nevada's Mustang Ranch (the first legal brothel in the country), Love Ranch holds the seedy promise of a 1970s period piece bubbling over with all the nudity, camp humor and tantalizing danger of a Russ Meyers' movie.
Instead, the film plays it so safe that the only thing holding it together is Helen Mirren's flawless performance as Grace Bontempo, the elegant brothel madam with a showboating husband named Charlie (played by a miscast Joe Pesci).
Narrative rubber hits the road when macho entrepreneur Charlie insists on underwriting a washed-up Argentine boxer named Armondo Bruza (well played by Sergio Peris-Mencheta).
Love Ranch is an off-key biopic that doesn't know where to begin or end. What comes between might have moments of emotional truth, but the reality is submerged where it should be heightened and made bland where it should sting. Nothing looks cheap or expensive enough to capture anyone's imagination, not even the poor souls trapped in such a dusty mosquito trap in the middle of the desert. Grade: C-
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